Shaney Irene

On Faith, Life, and Being the Church

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New Space!

Hi Everyone! I’m excited to announce that I’ve moved over to! I’m really excited about the new site. I’ll be keeping this blog up for about a week so that everyone who reads this blog via email or RSS has a chance to change over to the new site. Be sure to head on over there, my friend Beka is posting on the church’s response to sexual abuse today.


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[Learning Grace] How to Be Supportive

My apologies for my silence. I took an unplanned break from blogging during Thanksgiving week (and a little after), spending some much-needed quality time with my family and my boyfriend, who was visiting from Chicago for Thanksgiving. 

 I’m really excited to jump back in and start the Learning Grace series again. We’ll be tackling a wide range of issues, including depression, eating disorders, same-sex attraction, and more. Perhaps what I’m most excited about is hearing from others. If you’d like to contribute a guest post, e-mail me at

I’ve never considered myself a particularly sensitive person.

I’m an ESTJ who loves efficiency–not exactly the personality type of someone you would consider sympathetic toward people. And most of the time, I’m not. I find it very easy to get frustrated with others.

So I find it ironic that God has placed many people in my life that I’ve had to slow down and listen to. In high school, I had a friend who confessed that she was cutting herself. In college, I had a roommate who had serious health issues. And these just scratch the surface of my experiences.

In each situation, I was totally clueless about how to best support these people. It was purely by the grace of God that I didn’t do or say anything insensitive and hurtful (at least, not enough to end any friendships!). I still feel clueless a lot of the time, but I’ve noticed a few things that seem to be pretty consistent whenever trying to be supportive.

So, to get the ball rolling on this series, here are five principles I think apply to being sensitive in any situation. Anything you would add?

1. Listen

Let them talk if they want to, but don’t force them to do so. If they want to, listen attentively. Don’t interrupt, except perhaps to ask clarifying questions. Don’t be on your phone texting someone else while they’re talking. Give them your undivided attention. Absorb what they’re saying. Don’t just hear them–really think about what they’re saying.

2. Don’t assume

Even if you’ve been through something similar, don’t assume you understand what they’re going through or what they’re feeling. Don’t try to explain their situation, or offer solutions. For example, if a roommate has an eating disorder, don’t assume it’s because she has a poor body image. If a friend is suffering with depression, don’t tell them they need to pray more. Unless you’re a professional counselor or a doctor, you most likely can’t offer them a solution, or even a diagnosis. And your attempts to help may actually do more harm than good.

3. Ask questions

Always be careful not to ask questions that are too personal and inappropriate, but do ask questions to try and understand what someone is going through. For example, “How does that make you feel?” or “How can I be supportive?” are good questions.

4. Stay with them

Let them cry on your shoulder. Listen when they need someone to listen. Invite them over for dinner, or out to coffee. Continue to involve them in your life and be a friend to them. Many people going through difficult times or struggling with difficult issues find that others abandon them when they open up. Be someone they can count on to stick around.

5. Seek help

If you or a friend is in any danger, get help. If you’re in high school or younger, tell your parents or a trusted adult, call a hotline, or call 911 if someone is in immediate danger. If you’re an adult, see a counselor, encourage your friend to see a counselor, or call a hotline for help (or 911 if someone is in immediate danger). There are some things that you should never try to handle on your own, such as suicide, self-injury, and eating disorders. While you can never force a friend to get help, you can encourage them to do so and seek support for yourself.

Below are some important hotline numbers to know:

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE

National Self-Injury Hotline: 1-800-DONT-CUT

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 866-331-9474

National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-422-4453

National Eating Disorders Hotline: 847-831-3438

What would you add to this list? What do you think is important for people trying to be sensitive and supportive to others?


Links for Learning, November 17


Photo by Adrian Sampson

Happy Saturday, everybody! My Saturday will be spent reading, going to coffee with one of my Awana girls, cleaning, and (hopefully) exercising. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday. 🙂

Here are some links that caught my eye this week:

The most popular post on my blog this week

(broke some records for my blog!):

Also a don’t-miss: I’m starting a new blog series called Learning Grace. If you are interested in guest posting, e-mail me at


[Learning Grace] Introduction: Do You Know How to be Sensitive?

There is a woman in your church who struggles with an eating disorder. She sits in your Bible studies, passes out bulletins, and sings with a soft but beautiful voice during worship. During Bible study, a well-meaning leader says that women have a duty to keep themselves attractive for their husbands, so that they will not be tempted to look elsewhere. And again, she feels like she’s not good enough.

There is a teenager in your church who struggles with same-sex attraction. He’s a leader in your youth group. He loves the Lord, and he is putting all of his energy into fighting this battle. It’s difficult, though, as the gay jokes and the comments of “Christians who struggle with homosexuality just need to submit their desires to God,” make him feel guilty for his struggle.

You probably know someone who was raped.

Or someone who was physically abused.

Or who is experiencing depression.

Or is struggling with something else that is not well understood in the church.

Do you know how to be sensitive toward these people? Do you know how to show them grace?

I’m willing to bet you know them, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Over the past year, I’ve noticed more and more how much I don’t know how to be sensitive. As I’ve learned, I’ve tried to share what I’ve learned with others. I’ve been surprised at some of the responses I’ve gotten. Instead of questions and attempts to understand, I’ve experienced people fighting for their right to say what they say. And, very commonly, they appeal to their own stances to justify their words.

“Rape is awful!”

“I’m not sexist!”

“It’s horrible that anyone would think this way!”

Followed by their justification of why it’s okay for them to say the insensitive thing they said.

Here’s the thing: Sensitivity is not just about having the right attitude toward a situation.

Being sensitive is a skill that must be learned.

It is possible to be horrified by rape, and say something to a rape victim that tears them down. It’s possible to know that eating disorders are incredibly difficult, and say or do something that only adds to the difficulty. It’s possible to see injustice, then turn around and parrot teachings that only reinforce those same injustices. Sometimes these mistakes are fairly obvious (such as comparing women’s bodies to alcohol and men to alcoholics–I mean, really?), but sometimes they’re much more subtle.

I know that I’ve done it. I suspect I still do it sometimes.

But as a follower of Christ, I know I can’t be okay with that. I know that I need to learn how to be sensitive, how to show others grace. Because my God is a God who heals the brokenhearted and sets the captives free, and I want to be part of that.

So I’m going to learn, and I hope you’ll learn along with me.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be reading books, doing research, and blogging about what I’m learning. And I’m going to be tackling some difficult subjects: eating disorders, same-sex attraction, sexual abuse, death, and more. I’ll be reading and reviewing First Steps Out by Christy McFerren, Chasing Silhouettes by Emily Weirenga, and Rid of my Dis(Grace) by Justin Holcomb.

I’m calling this series of posts Learning Grace, and any post that is part of the series will begin with [Learning Grace] in the title.

I’d love to have you join me on my journey.

Here are some ways you can join:

  • If you’d like to guest post, please email me at
  • Read the books and leave your thoughts in the comments
  • Tweet your thoughts, using the hashtag #learninggrace
  • Leave a comment or email me at with any other ideas you have.

I look forward to going on this journey with you!


Christian Dating and Physical Boundaries

It’s a common refrain in the courtship crowd:

You shouldn’t do before marriage what you wouldn’t do with someone other than your spouse after marriage.

Typically, this standard is offered in relation to physical relationships. Is it okay to hold hands? To kiss? To cuddle while watching a movie?

In a culture that is often unhelpful in providing a path to marriage that honors purity, standards like this feel incredibly safe and helpful. Just ask yourself one simple question, and you can automatically know whether what you’re doing is okay or not!

Except it just doesn’t work that way.

Whoever came up with this guideline obviously did not have physical touch as their love language.

Imagine being in a relationship where your boyfriend or girlfriend never got you a gift, not even for Christmas or your birthday. Imagine a relationship in which your boyfriend or girlfriend never complimented you or told you how special you are. Or imagine that they never help you when you need it. Or hardly ever spent time with you.

That’s what a relationship with a very low amount of physical contact feels like to someone who has physical touch as their primary love language.

With good intentions to guard the sacredness of purity and marital intimacy, the courtship/biblical dating crowd has taken one expression of affection, which has just as much potential as any other to be beautiful and life-giving, and has, perhaps inadvertently, labeled it as bad and dangerous.

The truth is, all love languages can be beautiful and life-giving.

They can all also contribute to premature intimacy. It’s possible to say “I love you” to soon, to spend too much time together, to be too extravagant with gifts, and to communicate more intimacy and commitment that is appropriate for that stage in the relationship.

But just as growth happens in any area of a relationship–more time is spent together, communication becomes deeper, more of life is shared–it is natural to expect that an appropriate physical relationship will develop and grow alongside the rest of the relationship.

What that looks like for every couple will be different. Some couples hardly touch when dating, hold hands during engagement, and have their first kiss on the wedding day. And this can be beautiful. Some couples hold hands while dating and kiss when engaged. This too can be beautiful. Some couples have their first kiss while dating. And this, too, can be beautiful.

There is no one-size-fits all standard for physical limits. Each couple must seek God and decide for themselves where their standards will be. This does not mean that each couple gets to see how much they can get away with! Rather, they must ask themselves how to bless each other, how to point each other towards God, and how to help each other avoid lust and temptation. Sometimes, the boundaries a couple decides on will look very similar, if not identical, to “the rules” that many of us have been taught. But when boundaries are drawn from a place of freedom and a desire to honor God, they become blessings, not burdens.

I’m not advocating a free-for-all in dating.

Rather, I would propose that the question of, “What is okay?” should be traded for the question of “What will bless my boyfriend/girlfriend, communicating genuine and appropriate affection and showing them the love of Christ?”

Because when my boyfriend runs his fingers through my hair or kisses me on the forehead, he communicates care and honor. One-size-fits all standards that go beyond what God has said in the Bible and restrict Christian freedom, don’t.