With a household of visiting and resident grown sons, a granddaughter, and a couple of adult girlfriends, the temptation to make random comments on everyone’s life and behavior is seductive. “Why don’t you take Clara to the zoo?” Why does she always wear pink?” “I don’t like your new hairstyle.” “Maybe you should try a new career.” I have not said these things, but they are similar to the ones inside my head and the ones too frequently on my tongue. Because I see some of my family members only a few times a year, it is tempting to dump all of my unsolicited opinions and suggestions on them when they visit. Those suggestions and comments are a great way to ruin a holiday and create ill-will.
My friend Susan Peterson has come up with a self-imposed curfew for the temptation to give advice. She calls it “24-Hour Suggestion Restriction.” For a whole day she will not make suggestions to her family and friends. This includes everything: no back-seat driving, no fashion hints, no ways to improve your life, no “Why don’t you_____.” I’ve tried it. Keeping my mouth shut about another person’s behavior or life for a whole day is no easy feat. I become aware of how often I put in my two cents. Unsolicited suggestions often give the message, “You’re not capable of taking care of yourself, dummy.” What makes me even think I know what is right for their lives?
Suggestion Restriction has been a huge gift of restraint for me. When I put myself on 24-hours of SR and curtail my comments and advice, I notice how free I feel and how much fun I have. My adult children are instantaneously mature and interesting without my coaching. When I treat them with the dignity I offer strangers and listen to their stories as if meeting them for the first time, I realize I am lucky to know them. They are doing just fine without my interference. Suggestion Restriction creates good boundaries for where I stop and another person begins. When I manage to keep my suggestions to myself for hours or even many 24-hours at a time, I notice I am no longer even thinking in the language of suggestions. This is real freedom for them and for me.
If I am tempted to hand out blueprints or itineraries for my children’s lives , especially at Christmas time or other family gatherings, it’s a great opportunity for me to shut up and pray. And “pray” doesn’t mean giving God a list of suggestions about how to fix and control others. If I put myself on “24-Hour Suggestion Restriction” with God, I am much for likely to be quiet and to know my loved ones have a power far greater than me to direct them.
Note: Adaptation of a May 18th, 2009 post on the Purpose Driven Connection