1. You might have the solution they need, but they might not be in a place to receive it. When this happens, it’s like talking to a wall.
It’s so frustrating when you want to help someone and you are convinced your insight or assistance can get them to a place of breakthrough – but you also know that they just won’t really get it. I know a married couple who has been struggling for years and years, and even if I talk to one of them about the obvious dysfunctions they have in their relationship and that they need to address them so they stop fighting all the time, they won’t. The codependency is too deep. They are too ensconced and comfortable in their messed-up patterns of interacting and living. And yet for so long I would bring it up (when they would vent to me) in my desperate attempt to get them to a better place. But I’ve stopped.
Another example would be when your friend comes to you for advice in her romantic relationship, and you tell her flat out that she should kick him to the curb because you and everyone else knows he’s major trouble – but she doesn’t. And she’s not going to. She’s going to do what she wants, which is to wait for him to change, or justify the way she’s treated, or avoid breaking up because she can’t deal with being alone.
Even right now, I’m mentoring a guy and he is coming to me for advice and his situation with a girl is jacked up, but there is nothing I can do because he just isn’t getting it. He’s seeing what he wants to see, and believing what he wants to believe. Of course, I want and need to be loving and gracious towards these people in my life, because I know in my own past I have perhaps not heeded wise counsel as quickly I should have – simply because I wasn’t in a place to receive it and put it into action. As much as you want others to learn from your bloody experiences, sometimes they just need to bleed for themselves.
2. When you come through for someone, you might be keeping them from learning the lessons that God is trying to teach them, and from the growth He wants them to experience.
People should desire in and of themselves to become whole, healthy, healed individuals. They should have an internal – and not external – locus of control and know that they (with God and their loved ones) can deal with any problem that comes their way. You can’t want this for them more badly than they want it, and if you keep rescuing them, they never hit rock bottom and decide of their own volition to make changes. And making changes in their lives of their own volition is the surest way for that change to actually last.
If you are always swooping in and saving them, they never learn personal responsibility and autonomy. Instead, you’re a co-conspirator in their learned helplessness and victim mentality, where they start to rely on others to be their conscience, their reminders, their motivation, their brain. And you’ve become a cattle prod and a full-on enabler. And eventually a major reason why they stay in the same place they’ve always been.
I’ve done this. For example, I want my parents to work out more (I bet everyone wants their parents to work out more!) so that they can stay strong and healthy. But they need to want it for themselves. I used to remind them all the time, but I don’t anymore. Another example is when someone keeps bailing out a friend who has money problems. Or a person who refuses to file formal charges against an abusive domestic partner. Sometimes, you have to let them feel the full weight of the consequences they are due. Sometimes, if they sow the wind, they have to reap the whirlwind – and not be protected from it.
If someone wants to change badly enough, they’ll figure out a way to make it happen. They’ll carve time for it. They’ll prioritize it, and they’ll reach out for help, and they’ll get it done. If they don’t want it badly, it’s not up to me to convince them otherwise. It’s their life, and not mine, and that is a bitter pill to swallow. Trust me, I know. But as callous as it sounds, it is the healthiest option you can make – for yourself, and for the other person. It is tough love at its finest.
3. When you operate completely in human effort and led solely by human emotion, which is untrustworthy. This is an exhausting way to live, and from my experience far from fruitful.
I care about a lot of people, and when they post or mention their needs or wants on social media or in conversation when we’re hanging out, I always think – I could help with that, I could come through for you, I could advise you in this area, I could lead you out of this foxhole. But I have also learned over time that only when God clearly and repeatedly puts that person on my heart does my help really make a difference, and really have a lasting impact. Otherwise it’s like, “um, yay, thank you,” and then it’s back to business as usual for them, and I’m left feeling unsettled, unfulfilled, and really let down.
What I find much more productive and beneficial is when God clearly leads me to step in to help others, instead of me doing it out of compulsion, obligation, or emotion. Then, He ends up making things go way better and way smoother, because He is actually involved in the process. I always want to be led by Him. I want Him to direct my steps. I want Him to make my paths straight. I want my efforts to really, actually matter – and my experiences have shown me that He supernaturally blesses what I do when it’s been bathed in prayer and prompted by Him alone. And, to be honest, the feeling is the best feeling ever – to be led in these ways, to be a light in someone’s darkness in these days. Frankly, I want that all the time! It feels like what I was meant to do.
4. You and I actually have better things to do than get involved in every situation and drama and issue that we see in the lives of those around us.
Unfortunately, it’s so easy as a Christian who has the best intentions and the kindest of souls to get caught up in other people’s messes in an unbalanced way. And like I’ve alluded to earlier, it’s so easy to rationalize as “doing God’s work.” For the reasons stipulated above, I just don’t think that we should invite ourselves into the problems that others are having unless He clearly prompts us. If your heart is in the right place, I promise that He will prompt you and He will push You out of your comfort zone to be a blessing to others.
But if we are constantly doing it whenever we are asked, and in any and every situation without wise discernment about what is right for us to take on, I just feel like it’s foolish. I’ve seen people constantly pour themselves out on behalf of others as a way of “taking up their cross” while their own lives, family situations, and health fall apart. It makes me so upset. It is such a travesty.
Please don’t misunderstand the gist of my message here. I fully understand that we are called to be a blessing to others, and those of you who know me will attest to the fact that I walk the walk. All I am advocating for here is more God-sourced vision and selectivity for when and how we come through for others. I hope that the reasons and examples I’ve provided above, as well as the stories of my own failures in this area, help to convince you of its merit. I’d love to hear if these words have struck a chord with you – please let me know in the comments below!