The Power to Help

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The Power to Help

A woman is on the phone with her brother-in-law. There is a need for assistance to help pay their electric bill. The woman explains why she doesn’t have the money to pay the bill this month. The brother-in-law, realizing that his nieces will be affected by his decision, decides to pay the electric bill for his sister-in-law.


A father and mother sit in their living room and begin praying for their son. He has just been arrested for drug possession…again. Their son calls them to ask for assistance in getting him out of jail. The parents then must decide, “Do we bail him out again?” The son gives a long story of how he was wrongly accused, and the parents once again rescue their son. 


A college student lives on campus for the first time. Their grades begin to plummet because they spend more time on the social activities of the campus than studying. The student loses their partial scholarship and calls their parents for money. After a long discussion about responsibility, the parents relent and give their child what they want.. 


Do these scenarios sound familiar? These stories and others like them play out over and over in our lives. It is very challenging to tell a loved one that their behavior and choices are destroying their lives and hurting everyone around them. Most of us think, “If I can rescue them one more time, surely they will change.”     


The fact is, according to Christian Psychologists, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, “People will not change until the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of change.”


When we rescue someone, we are keeping them from the consequences of their behavior, so they do not have to feel the pain of their choices. Yes, it is difficult to set boundaries and expectations, but the earlier we set those in place, the easier it is for the loved one to understand. The boundary becomes the guide instead of a personal attack. When a person is in a bind, their natural tendency is to defend and deflect. But if boundaries and expectations are set in advance, they can be used to guide our response if a loved one gets themselves in trouble.  


You have the power to help your loved one, but that only comes with the help of God and with clear expectations put in place with a predetermined decision not to rescue. For example, if the parents whose son was in jail had already talked to their son about what would happen if he ever gets put in jail, then that decision would be the guide, rather than the emotions of the moment. 


When we are in the middle of chaos, we tend to avoid discomfort and relent to “keep the peace.”  


In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells the parable of the lost son or, as some refer to it, “The Prodigal Son.” He explains that a father’s youngest son made a decision to leave the family and begins to make poor life choices. He makes so many poor decisions that he ultimately finds himself off in a distant land, in a pig pen, with no money. Imagine if some of the father’s friends had seen the son in the pig pen and reported back to the father. Or if the son sent a message to the father asking for assistance.  What would the father have done? 


The father obviously would have sent word back to his son to say, “I love you, but I don’t love your behavior. When you get your life in a better place, then I will help you.” 


The evidence of what would have been the father’s response is found in verses 17 and 18. Jesus tells us, “When he [the son] came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”


When the son “came to his senses,” his heart changed, but that only occurred when he was at the end of his rope. The father did not rescue his son, thus giving him an opportunity to feel the pain that would motivate change. If the father had rescued his son, the son would have learned that there are no consequences to choices and would have continued his bad behavior. 


A few years ago, a father put their son in a boarding school, hoping it would change his son’s life. The son begged his father to come and get him, and eventually the father agreed and brought his son back home. A few months later, the father called the school's director, saying, “My son continues to make bad choices. What should I do?” The school director said, “Since you have given your son clear expectations and he did not abide by those expectations, and since he is now 18 years old, kick him out of the house and tell him that you will help when he is ready for help.” 


There was a long pause on the phone, and the father responded, “I will kick him out of the house when I can find a place for him to stay.” The father was unwilling to let the son experience the pain of his choices, so the son had no reason to change. A few years later, the son was killed in a bar fight. If the father would have given his son an opportunity to “come to his senses”, perhaps a different story could be told. 


If you are trying to navigate the poor decisions of a loved one, remember that strength and wisdom are found in the Lord, and that predetermined, clear expectations are essential. Many families in these situations even have written agreements detailing expectations and the consequences for breaking them, which their loved ones sign. Now the loved one has agreed to what will happen if they make more poor decisions. Always include a redemptive aspect to the agreement. Like, “When you make these good choices, we agree to help you.” 


The power to help is yours with the help of God and supportive friends. We pray that God will give you the strength to put boundaries in place so your loved ones will come to their senses and receive the help they need. 


There are two resources available for more information on these principles and others to help in the process of helping others. Close But Not Too Close (Link) is a booklet with principles to overcome codependency, and Concerned Persons (link) is a small group Bible study to learn how to help without harming.  


References:  Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.


Living Free is a nonprofit ministry seeking to restore hope, create community, and empower people. We train and equip leaders to bring lasting change to their communities and develop small group materials to be used by those leaders. Our curriculum covers topics dealing with discipleship, overcoming addiction, improving relationships, managing emotions, and more. The Living Free strategy and curriculum are being used by church small groups, youth groups, recovery homes, nonprofits, community organizations, and more.


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