By Blair Parke, Crosswalk.com
We are called as Christians to be helpers to everyone. Led by the Helper Himself, the Holy Spirit, we must always aid those around us, whether believer or non-believer.
However, what if we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t know if the help we are providing is truly helping a person and encouraging them to get out of a struggle? We’ve had that friend or family member who always seems to have a financial struggle, emotional struggle, or even a spiritual struggle that doesn’t seem to get resolved.
But when we roll solutions around in our heads, it can be hard to find a way to handle the struggle without it becoming a continued expense of our time, money, and energy.
So, what do we do in situations where helping a person could actually encourage their problem? How do we share one another’s burdens without it becoming a strain on our finances, emotions, and/or physical health?
As always, God’s Word has the solution and perspective we all must have for such a time as this.
Called to Help Others
Throughout the Bible, there are countless Scriptures telling us how we are called as Christ followers to help others around us, just as Jesus did. It is not just helping our families and friends, but those around us we don’t even know, spreading God’s love to them through our actions.
Just to name a few:
“But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so” (Proverbs 3:27).
“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
What these verses express is that God has created us to be helpful to our fellow man, sharing our resources and giving them hope when their hope is low. We are to bear each other’s burdens, as this is what Jesus emphasized as the best way to live and spread God’s love to others.
But what if in sharing what we have with someone in need – especially someone who always seems to be in need and doesn’t try to help himself – we begin to put ourselves in jeopardy?
It becomes a growing dilemma if a person you know is constantly asking you for money, but never seems to get themselves in a place where they are financially secure. Or a person who always wants to wallow in self-pity and wants you to join them or encourage their mindset, instead of choosing to look at the positives and blessings they currently have.
It’s a situation that makes it hard to know if giving that person money or allowing the conversation to regularly drift to self-pity is beneficial to them or is what God has called you to do to help.
God Wants Us to Be Compassionate but Responsible
Yes, God wants us to extend our love and support to those around us, but He also wants us to manifest the image we are in Him in our daily lives, whether helped by others or not.
Many will point to the verse in Galatians 6:2 that reminds us to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” But the apostle Paul’s words of being responsible for yourself can also be found in the same chapter: “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load” (Galatians 6:4-5).
God shows through Paul’s words that in no way should we stop helping people because it isn’t convenient or something we want to do, but also that we can’t take on the responsibilities of a person that they need to handle themselves. By giving your destitute family member another loan, you may not be inspiring them to make the proper changes to get financially stable but are only encouraging their poor money habits.
The same for those who want to stay in a negative mindset, or always want to complain about what God is or isn’t doing in their lives. What you see as a listening ear with some advice sprinkled in could actually just perpetuate their belief that they are justified in their feelings and beliefs, instead of breaking the self-wallowing cycle.
The time may come for some tough love and boundaries to be in place, without you losing your relationship with that person.
Four Ways to Stop Enabling and Start Truly Helping
Tough love doesn’t have to be as brutal as people make it out to be, but it may be necessary if your loved one, friend, co-worker, church member or someone else can’t seem to (or doesn’t want to) get out of their struggle.
1. Have a heart-to-heart conversation
Sit the other person down and share with them your concerns about their struggle and your involvement with it. Let them know that you want to stay connected in this relationship, but you can’t continue the help you have provided because you don’t see it aiding the person. Prepare yourself for however they might react, and know that if the person doesn’t want to hear your thoughts, or even to continue the relationship, that you have shared your heart and hope for their recovery.
2. Set a boundary
If an honest conversation doesn’t rectify the situation, setting a boundary might be next in line. If it is with money, let the person know that you won’t be giving them anymore money because you are not comfortable with how they are handling it. If it is regarding emotional discussions, let them know that if the two of you are talking, the moment the conversation goes to this area of self-pity, you will change the subject or may even end the conversation. Boundaries are also only effective if you hold true to them, as you can only be responsible for your part in the boundary.
3. Suggest alternate sources of help
Just because your help may change doesn’t mean the person can’t get help for the struggle they are facing. Recommend resources to the person. Therapy may be helpful for someone going through emotional and/or spiritual issues, and financial training programs can help someone deal with debt or finances. This way, you are directing your friend or loved one to an expert who could offer more sound advice.
4. Verbally commit to praying for them and their situation
This step should be a given, but sometimes people don’t know that you are praying and still care for them when the other steps are in place. Make it a point to check in with the person to let them know you still care about them and that you hope everything is going well. You can still keep your boundary stable with this approach while letting the person know you care for them and believe their situation will improve.
Finding yourself in a quandary over how to help someone is something we all may face sometime in our lives. Though we are called by God to love our neighbors as ourselves and be a source of help to all, there is a difference between helping someone and enabling irresponsible behavior. In order to keep a relationship intact without it being at the expense of you personally, steps may have to be put in place to encourage the person’s focus in being more responsible for resolving their own struggle.
The hope is that by offering this form of help – rather than giving in to what they want – the person will make positive changes in their own life. That is the life-changing transformation that not only you and the person want, but God wants as well.
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Blair Parke is a freelance writer for BibleStudyTools.com and freelance book editor who wrote her first book, "Empty Hands Made Full," in 2021 about her journey through infertility with her husband. She previously worked for eight years with Xulon Press as an editor. A graduate of Stetson University with a bachelor's in communications, Blair previously worked as a writer/editor for several local magazines in the Central Florida area, including Celebration Independent and Lake Magazine and currently writes for the Southwest Orlando Bulletin. She's usually found with a book in her hand or enjoying quality time with her husband Jeremy and dog Molly. You can order her book at Christian Author Bookstore - Xulon Press Publishing and visit her website at Parkeplaceediting.