Meet Them Where They’re At

I came home from work the other day, walked in the front door, looked at my wife, and I knew there was something off. To give you a little background information, we have been having issues with our septic tank on our property. Things haven’t been going well, and we were told that there was a good possibility that our leach field may be old and needing to be replaced. This is a $10,000 to $30,000 expense. We have only been in our house for just over 6 months, and we weren’t expecting this. 

My wife’s face was telling me a story. It said, “I’m overwhelmed, worried, concerned, and I don’t know how to handle it right now.” Now, at this moment, I should have seen it, recognized her needs, and met her where she was at. Sadly, because I’m flawed and don’t make the greatest decisions at times, I became guarded and cold. I said the things most men say, “There’s nothing to worry about. We’ll be just fine. It’s all part of the homeowner experience.” None of that was what she needed to hear or what she needed from me. She looked at me, with tears welling up in her eyes and told me, “I’m overwhelmed, and I don’t know how to handle it.” Again, I should have figured it out at this moment, but I didn’t. I looked at her with judgmental eyes and said, “Then I don’t know what to tell you.” And I walked away to get changed for the gym. 

Now, I know what your probably thinking, “What an @**hole!”, and you would be right. I was definitely not at my best, and I failed my wife miserably. While at the gym, I replayed everything in my head over and over. I knew how I acted and what I said was not what she needed. I knew that I had broken the relationship between her and I. I knew that I messed up and needed to make it right. When I got home, I walked up to her, threw my arms around her, and apologized for not being what she needed me to be in her moment of worry and concern. When I did that, she looked at me and said with a smile, “That’s all I needed.”

I have struggled with this for all of my life. I don’t know how to respond to peoples’ emotions. I am a very logical individual. I rely very little on my emotions. I always chalked it up to being a guy, but in reality, I have met very few guys that are like me. In reality, this is just who I am and how I operate. It has served me well in my decision making and stresses in life. Worry is not something I do, and when things get difficult, I put my head down and push on. This, however, is not what most people do, and because of that, it has hindered my ability to meet people where they are. 

I have had to work really hard to focus on meeting people where they are at, whether I understand their position and feelings or not. This has not been an easy feat, as I am bent on being a fixer and not much of an emotional person. My wife has not only been amazing and patient with me, she has also been my biggest helper in trying to understand how to meet others where they are at. 

I have learned that there are key elements to meeting people where they are at. First, we must get rid of “self” and enter the situation with a heart and mind willing to intentionally listen to the other person. It is only through listening to the other person that we can get to the next step – become what the other person needs. Most of the time, people just need to be heard. If you are like me, you might have a tendency to hear someone’s problems and immediately give ideas and suggestions on how to fix them. Even though the other person may need to fix their problems, what they are really needing is someone to hear them and sit with them in their time of need. 

There is a great scene in Pixar’s Inside Out that demonstrates the power and importance of sitting with people in their time of need. Warning: Spoiler alert. Inside Out is a movie about emotions inside our heads. The movie is about a 10 year old girl named Riley, who has to move to a new city with her parents, leaving her friends and her comfort behinder her. The emotions in her head – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Worry – have to work together to help Riley through this difficult process. As Joy and Sadness are trying desperately to get back to “headquarters”, they run into Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong. On their journey, they come across Bing Bong’s “rocketship”. However, a cleaning crew swept it up and pushed it over the cliff of the “Memory Dump”. Bing Bong watches as they push his rocketship over the edge. He runs to the cliff and begins to cry knowing that it is only a matter of time that Riley will start to forget about him. He sits at the edge of the cliff and starts talking about fond memories with Riley. Joy wants nothing more than to get back to headquarters, so she does everything in her power to offer advice and suggestions to help Bing Bong feel better so that they can get back on the road. However, nothing seems to be working. Sadness walks over to Bing Bong, sits next to him, and listens to what he has to say. She explains that she too has gone through painful situations. She doesn’t offer advice or suggestions on how he could feel better. She just sits with him in his time of need. After a few minutes of sitting, talking, and listening, Bing Bong says, “I think I will be okay,” and he gets up to continue the journey.

There is great power in just sitting and listening to people without needing to offer advice or suggestions. The most important thing we can do for others is to listen to them and be with them in their time of need. This means we need to remove our selfishness from the situation and be present. It doesn’t matter how busy we are, how much advice we can offer, or thinking that we have all the answers. What matters is that we listen, be present, and sit with people in their pain, hurt, worry, or whatever it might be. We need to remember that it’s not about us and what we want. It’s about the other person and being present in their time of need. 

We are all works in progress. Let us not fail at working on ourselves. Let us see the areas we need to change and diligently work at becoming better. 

As always, stay humble and serve well!

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