Is it wrong of me to go to my non-Christian friends first when I need someone to talk to? I feel like other Christians would judge me and yell at me more than actually hear me out.
There is this myth going around that atheists eat babies, punch cops, and commit mass genocide, while the truth is that anyone is capable of atrocious crimes. Anyone is also capable of companionship because of God’s common grace.
It’s not wrong to turn to ANY listening ear when you need someone. It’s true that many Christians have done a terrible job of simply keeping the mouth closed and being present with someone. You’re not wrong to feel this way.
The difference comes when you start seeking advice. Here I’d recommend you to find at least a few mature Christians who will speak both grace and truth to you when you’re ready to receive it. You don’t want people who are “Yes Men” that only tell you what you want to hear.
Let’s consider a few things about “advice” before we get into the difference of Christian wisdom.
1) Tone and attitude, while important, are not everything.
Even if you don’t like the “tone of their voice,” it could still be solid advice. Just because someone says good wisdom with a stinky tone doesn’t suddenly make it bad. It means we should approach advice with a thoughtful nuance which will require more than emotional analysis.
Many Christians can be overtly passionate in their tone which is mistaken for aggression, and while I agree that we should be more thoughtful in our inflections, we could also recognize that “loud” is how God built some of us. If someone judges you, you don’t ever have to talk to that person again. But if someone is telling you something real, even in a raised voice, try not to take it too personally and give it a listen.
When I get blasted online for some of my opinions and the criticism is a total ad hominem attack, I still listen to the core of the words. I ignore all the name-calling and get right down to what’s true. Then I receive what’s good and reject what’s not. If we could all slow down on the hot drama in the room and actually hear the content, there would be a lot less trolling and homicide.
Of course it’s important how we say things too, but don’t get too hung up on someone else’s tone. You worry about yours and you let them be jerks.
2) Check your motives — be totally honest with yourself.
The secret motive in running to non-Christian advice is that we usually want to confirm our own pre-made opinion to do something we shouldn’t be doing. We are all expert salesmen on selling ourselves a line of crap.
The hard part about motives is that they’re usually always messed up and we’re often blind to them. Everyone can do the right thing, but only God can truly change our motives so we’re acting for the right reasons. There are times we accidentally do the right thing, but God cares about both your intentions and your actions. Which leads us to the last point.
3) True Christian wisdom will speak to your whole soul, not just the moment.
Ultimately, the major difference with Christian wisdom is in the purpose and destination. A believer and non-believer might look like they’re doing the same exact thing, but their hearts are in totally different places. A legit Christian will sacrifice without expecting anything back, which is true serving. A non-Christian might only be sacrificing to serve himself. (Vice versa can still be true: so discern.)
Advice-minus-God could work for a moment, but not for a healthy long-term journey and definitely not for eternity. Christian wisdom, even when it sounds like a slap in the face, is almost always the rebuke we need to ground down in reality. Sometimes regular plain advice is a mile wide and an inch deep, and that just won’t cut it. You’ll need the depth of Jesus to heal the hole in your soul. It’s the difference between treating symptoms and doing the surgery.
Christians believe that we were made by God to love Him and love the people He has made, and so we do a lot of things that will NOT make sense to someone who believes otherwise. Endless patience, radical generosity, and serving in a least-of-these-ministry is not a top priority in the world — but for the legit Christian, this is the good stuff.
It’s totally cool to go to any of your friends for a shoulder to lean on. It’s unfortunate that some Christians are harsh and judgmental. But in the end, please consider that many Christians are also understanding, loving, gracious, and care about you. There are some who are just waiting for someone like you to encourage, and they are more than happy to cheer for you on your continued journey with Christ. Find them.
Here’s a seven minute sermon about how to hear advice that I preached at The Bridge in Chicago, a ministry that serves ex-convicts, gang members, and those recovering from addiction.