Advice - T.M.P. Vanderven

Taken with permission from Clarion Vol. 47, No. 10 (1997)

I don't know whether you have ever tried to give someone some good advice. If so, then I hope that this person had already made up his mind to do what you advised him to do. Or, if this was not the case, that this person for other reasons had already decided to follow your advice. In all other cases it is most likely that your good advice will have been ignored (P. L. Los).

Education has much to do with giving advice. Fathers advise their sons in matters of importance such as which career to seek, or how to invest for financial security. Mothers tell their daughters of their own faux pas. Teachers advise their students by identifying mistakes and by generously providing suggestions for improvement and correction. Advice is always given to those who do not know what to do, or who have made mistakes. Advice has always the implication that the advisor knows what should have been or what ought to be done by the "advisee." That advice is often based on our own bad experiences: don't make the mistakes I made! And yet most of us who have been asked for advice have groaned when our well-meant comments were not followed (how come that we know so well what is good for others?). Not many of us would be willing to share Los's view.

My wife and I often have contact with people who for years have been saturated with good advice. Fortunately, more often than not they did not follow those good suggestions. Putting it even more strongly, for reasons of self-preservation they had learned to oppose that good advice with all their might.

Self-preservation? Is that not a paradox? After all, advice is given in order to help the other person, not to damage him or her. In fact, is Los not guilty of a dangerous kind of flippancy, especially damaging to parents and their children, and teachers and their students? Children are well-known to oppose good advice, which is one of the major reasons for much parental anxiety - if only they would listen! And here is an esteemed doctor, nota bene, who supports these rebellious attitudes and character traits.

paradox =
a statement that seems contradictory, unbelievable, or absurd but that may actually be true in fact.

Before throwing stones at Los, we may want to consider the world we live in - a world of apparently contradictory expectations. Let me illustrate with a few examples. It is the task of the government to serve the people; we speak of government officials as civil servants. However, more often than not we discover that the government is more self-serving than serving, and that law-abiding citizens are known to do their utmost to find loopholes in the laws of the land. All in all, we receive and give quite a range of conflicting messages about our relationship with the government. A second example, closer to home: we observe much confusion when parents genuinely try to seek the good for their children by creating house rules. Those rules are cause of much (sometimes even angry) debate in the home. Teenaged children often do not recognize much good in them at all; they perceive them as stifling hindrances - some may even think that their parents are "out to get them." And a final example: as we survey the rules and practices of our schools, we may wonder at times whether these rules exist for the benefit of the students, or whether the students exist in order to contribute to the greater glory of an orderly school.

Indeed, our society is rife with conflicting, paradoxical messages. How will our children cope with these paradoxes in their lives? Los writes about these things in this manner.

Surely there are many parents who tell their children in all sincerity that they love them very much, but that their children ought to do their best much more [in order to be loveable children]. And how many Christians have not been drilled to believe that their salvation depends on God's grace only, yet that they themselves should strive hard to enter into heaven. According to this doctrine, parents, and even God Himself, are said to love their children dearly, but not quite the way they are right now. In other words, parents seem to say: we are really glad that we have you, but we do not want you to be as you are yourself.

Much of our advice tends to tell the other person that there is something wrong with him or her: you are sort of o.k., but really you ought to change this or that. Such advice incorporates certain requirements or standards, all too often generating rather negative feelings: there is something wrong with me because I could not even think of what to do while my advisor seems to know these things just like that. Seeking advice places you in a vulnerable position; it can create much anxiety. It places the advisor in a position of power and responsibility, not always easily and wisely handled - Dad knows everything, and he sure tells me that; obviously I know nothing; I am just a nobody. Parents and teachers who have a kind of a binding "ownership" over the children, can readily fall into this trap. After all, they "know," where children and students are considered not to know.

Does our well-meant advice add to confusion and anxiety?

The dictionary tells me that independence means freedom from influence or control of others. Education for independence therefore means that the parent leads his child to the point where the boy or girl is able to live by his or her own advice. Indeed, however strange this may sound, if the job is well done, then parents and teachers will do their utmost to make themselves unnecessary. Stand on your own feet should be an important educational goal in the home as well as in the school.

But if this is so, then advice to our children or students should not be contradictory. We should not say: I'd like to see you grow towards independence, as long as you do what I say. Educating towards independence means, among other things, that the young people need genuine opportunities to make their own decisions, even if parents or educators may not agree with them. It means that we as parents must learn to recognize that our opinions and decisions may not necessarily represent the ultimate truth for our children, that there are other ways of looking at things, and that decisions can be made in different ways. Our well intentioned parental advice may not necessarily be the best!

You will object, no doubt, that there is the precept of the Fifth Commandment, requiring obedience from children. Of course, you will claim, I will always draw my advice from Scripture if and when appropriate, and therefore my advice has that additional authority. After all, I am the father, I am the mother. And it is true, fathers and mothers have been given divine authority to educate their children. It is true that Scripture provides us with much advice, and that in all things we must seek to live according to the precepts of the Lord. And if our children act contrary to what God's Word teaches them, then appropriate discipline is necessary. Let us reject the pictures of family life as drawn in many a contemporary novel for teenagers - fathers without moral fibre, mothers who cannot cope with their own problems, and teenagers who have to save the family and the world. Let us as parents uphold the law of God for all of life in the daily hustle and bustle of our families. That is the way in which we may lead our children to the Source of living water.

At the same time, there are many situations in life in which answers are not simple and forthcoming. The Bible itself contains many (apparently confusing) paradoxes. It tells the story of a seemingly heartless Solomon who orders the death of a small baby (I Kings 3:1 6ff). It tells the believer that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone (Jas. 2:24). And then the Proverbs - the sayings and riddles of the wise for the wise (Prov. 1 :5) - its puzzles are not easily solved! As parents and as teachers we often seek our way through life's problems with quite some hesitancy and uncertainty. Being honest to ourselves, we will acknowledge that our advice is more often directed to ourselves first of all. Are we willing to admit this to our children?

advice =

opinion given as to what to do,
or how to handle a
situation; counsel.

Education has much to do with giving advice, and so great responsibility rests on the shoulders of the advisor. If the advice is to be corrective, then the advisor must clearly discern what is right and what is wrong. A mere opinion is not good enough; our advice to our young people must stand the scrutiny of Scripture. If the advice is to provide direction, then we should not in some subconscious manner place our own interests before those of our students. Our advice should be enabling; it should help the youngster move a step closer to real independence.

The apostle James strongly emphasizes the crucial importance of deeds to demonstrate faith. Similarly, Scriptural advice can only emerge from much practice, as the Proverbs themselves recommend: let the discerning get guidance (Prov. 1 :5). Therefore, the best advice ought to go to ourselves: listen to your own advice; practise what you preach; show your wisdom in your deeds.

Parents, teachers, how Scripturally genuine is the advice you give?



Los, P.L. (1996). Van gelijke beweging als wij: over leren van -, omgaan met en behandelen van mensen zoals wijzelf zijn. Series: Pastoraal Perspectief. Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre.

Dr. P.L. Los is a retired Dutch pschiatrist who has published in this booklet a number of talks to a variety of audiences. His insights are refreshingly frank and down to earth as he seeks to explore how we, human beings, deal with each other. Despite the best intentions, we often make life miserable for others by not accepting them as they are. Los's writings speak of his awe for Him who has given all His children an abundance of special gifts (I Cor. 12). H is talks help us towards a Scriptural acceptance of each other (with all our individual peculiarities) as children of one Father. If you still master the Dutch language, this is a treasure trove of pithy wisdom, as is its compendium volume Onder anderen: zes pastorale Iezingen (Pastoraal Perspectief 1994). Highly recommended.