In the past, it would have been too easy for me to write this blog from an attitude of snarkiness, schadenfruede or false superiority. The more I read these columns, though, the more I see that they can be instructive, encouraging and even hopeful. See if my observations match some of your thinking….
My daily newspaper reading includes advice columns. The core content of advice-seeking letters: The fervent stories of correspondents who want help with personal/relational problems they can’t solve alone.
I feel genuinely sorry for the individuals who ask for advice. They’re caught in no-win places in life. At the ends of their ropes, they hope that the columnist will share practical insights that will unravel writers’ tight knots of near-despair.
These folks aren’t outliers. What they report is echoed elsewhere—news stories, anecdotal evidence and mental health research. Each letter/story is probably a small sampling of similar troubles in society, continuing agonies that might be invisible to the rest of us.
Counselors and other mental health professionals—e.g., pastors—invest their care and concern, trying to assist struggling people find ways out of what might slowly be strangling their sense of well-being. What a blessing!
Much of the helpful/hopeful advice columnists offer is familiar to those of us who try to follow Scriptures, especially Jesus’ example. How sad that those insights might be unknown in many places. (How good, though, that we can carry Gospel-living into the places where we also function as advisors, counselors or caring listeners.)
The columnists seem to understand the power of forgiveness, honesty, love, wisdom, careful thought and empathy in these situations. In a sense, the columnists proclaim a kind of relational good news—in which God-given traits have positive and practical utility.
I admire the letter-writers, too. Writers/Askers are trying their best to do the right thing. They’ve not given up, they’re not resigned to their fates and they still hold onto hope. Most of them ask the right questions, and they exhibit the kind of basic humility that’s necessary for any of us to transcend our own life-glitches.
Back to today’s newspaper, humbly so….
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