As humans we are destined to radiate or drain.
We’re either giving life to those around us or taking it. There’s no neutral ground. We’re either the kind of person that lightens the load for others or throws bricks onto already weary backs. We breathe life or we strangle it.
Central to the “drainers,” as I’ll call them, is a propensity toward negativity, complaining, and bitterness. These are the Johnny Rainclouds who can turn the best of situations into a self-absorbed grouchfest that would make Sesame Street’s Oscar look like an amateur.
Ultimately, this attitude reflects a selfish perspective on life, totally lacking any consideration for others. These people generally end up alone and without friends because, honestly, most sane, healthy people can’t stand to be sucked into these black holes of despair.
Sometimes the drainers talk too much; sometimes they never say much of anything. Whether much or little, the drainers’ words (or silence) take the wind out of our sails, the hope out of our chest, the sunshine out of our days.
The drainers are, more than anything, in need of compassion. They’re most likely draining because they are themselves drained of vitality. They can’t give what they don’t have. They are in need of our pity and, inevitably, our carefully guarded distance.
The life givers
And then there are the Life Givers. The replenishers. The friends or bosses or spouses or siblings or parents who put the wind back in your sagging sails, who know how, with a word, to breathe new life into your feeble frame. Who know how to take you, when you’re contemplating a suicidal jump into abyss of despair, and remind you what the sunshine feels like on your face.
These are the people most sane folks are attracted to. They speak the native languages of encouragement, joy, and gratitude. They find hope in the darkest caves, strands of mercy in the tidal waves of despair. These are the friends that stick. They show a genuine regard for the welfare of others.
There’s really only one way to be a Life Giver, and that’s to know and abide in the presence of the Man called Life (John 11:25). If the drainers can’t give what they don’t have, the Life Givers can’t contain the Life that spills over in their hearts (John 7:37-38).
how to…AND NOT TO
Whether you drain others or refuel them, it generally happens along the following lines.
- Listening. Have you ever spent time with people who never seem to be listening to you? Who speak, but it never really has anything to do with what you’ve said? Who attentively talk but then, when you start to speak, reach for their smartphone or computer? Who never utter more than an obligatory “uh huh” when you pour out your heart? Or change the subject without acknowledging anything you just said? That crash course is called “How to Show People You Don’t Care 101.” It’s what Drainers do. Why? Because there’s one planet in their orbit, the planet of SELF. It’s the only lens through which they can interpret anything.
On the other hand, one of the rarest and most life-giving things that can ever happen to us is a conversation in which a friend or coworker or spouse or pastor or employer listens. They ask good questions and display their attentiveness through non-verbal communication. They express empathy for your situation. They give you their uninterrupted attention. They close the door and put the phone on silent. They know the fine art of listening well.
This is entirely a matter of cultivating a dedicated habit of listening that’s motivated by a genuine concern for other people. Bad listening reflects a heart that doesn’t care about others because, ultimately, it doesn’t care about God.
2. Speaking. You can only speak well, directly into the heart of someone’s hurt or agony or gladness, after you’ve first listened well. It was said of our Lord Jesus that he knew “how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Isaiah 50:4). But, likewise, the only people for whom the words of life issue forth from their lips are the ones in whose hearts that word is abiding.
My survival in some of the hardest moments of my life — the most frustrating, sobering, and grief-stricken — was secured by a friend who listened and then, with grace and surgical precision, spoke words that cut right to the heart of the matter. Having made a proper diagnosis, they also knew the cure.
Nothing ensures us of our worth as God-created persons like the dignity of being listened to and then wisely spoken to. This is how you tell another person, without actually saying so, “You matter. Enough to clear my schedule, if only for a moment. Enough to really hear you and really offer words of life to you. Enough to give you my undivided attention. Enough to really consider the significance of what’s happening right now in your life.”
On the other hand, as Job found out, nothing stings quite like an ill-aimed or poorly-timed soliloquy from a misguided companion. Many times these unwise words are half-truths applied in callous disregard for another’s pain. They lack compassion, timing, or both.
Upon finding out that someone’s job is taking a careening leap into the abyss of career hell, it’s probably not cool to remind them that, yes, ‘God is sovereign.’ Or that ‘God gives and takes away.’ While true, these statements come off as shallow, disconnected, and generally lacking care. What people really need to know, by word or by hug, is that someone is with them. They’re not alone.
As I mentioned before, sometimes the drainers speak too much, thus drowning you in a torrent from their never-ending verbal firehose, or they crush you with their silence in moments when a sane voice is vital. In any event, their speech misses the mark worse than a Mark Sanchez-thrown football (if it wasn’t already butt-fumbled first).
3. Acting. The number one word I’ll use here is considerate. Life givers act in consideration of others — they think not only about what would be good for themselves, but what would be pleasing and beneficial for others (Philippians 2).
These types of people are generally enjoyable to be around because you know they’re not going to steamroll you at every opportunity. They aren’t going to dominate your time, dictate the minute details of every shared experience, or demand that everything be done according to their highly-tuned specifications.
Drainers, however, make plans and act without regard to others’ interests. They don’t care if a business project is good or convenient or beneficial to anyone else — it’s good for them, so damn the torpedoes.
These folks tend to be loudly (aggressive) or silently (passive aggressive) pushy, strong-willed, and highly preferential. The core and sole criteria by which they make their determinations about scheduling, monetary investment or event planning is what they want.
Here is a not-so-subtle newsflash: If this is you, hardly anyone can stand to be around you. That’s why you don’t have any friends. People who feel the need to make their preferences known — and make sure others abide by them — at every single turn are incredibly painful to be around.
On the flip side, those who prefer others are generally enjoyable to spend time with, plan trips together, and build friendships with. Friendship, after all, is a mutual two-way street of listening, speaking, and giving. In other words, it’s a conversation, not a one-sided monologue.
Finally, regarding time. You drain the life out of people when you disrespect their time. Constant lateness. Refusal to commit ahead of time. Last-minute planning. You’re telling others that the only person’s time you really give a rip about is your own. But you can honor people by planning ahead, being punctual, and thus showing respect for their time.
So what if you’re a Drainer, what do you do to deal with that? In the words of Gus from the TV show “Psych,” “You need Jesus.” Jesus is Life, the original Giver, so you’ve got to start abiding in Him (John 15). We are all by nature selfish, and it’s not until we see and delight in the sinless Son of Man giving His life for the sin of the world that we begin to understand love and true self-giving as a way of life.
As you abide in Him and His word abides in you, the presence of fruit — things like concern for others, which the old divines called charity or love — cannot help but issue forth. Prayerfully and biblically abide in Him. There is no life apart from Christ.