by Guest Blogger Jennifer Slattery
It’s easy to see hurtful behaviors when they’ve reached the extreme. It’s another matter to catch the impact of our seemingly helpful daily choices and interactions.
Viewing such drastic examples of helping turned hurting, it’s easy to see the long-term effects. It’s not so easy when the situation hits closer to home and is surrounded by a lifetime of behaviors. Then suddenly, the lines blur. In the evangelical community, this can be especially hard. We’re commanded to love, to carry one another’s burdens, to provide for our brother and sister in need, but if our acts of love aren’t grounded in truth, we risk actually harming our recipient.
Let me give an example. The other day I received a phone call from our daughter. She’d forgotten her math book and assignment at home. I could’ve responded in one of two ways: I could’ve brought her book to her or I could’ve allowed her to suffer the consequences of her actions. Both choices had long-term effects.
Which would’ve been an act of love?
This isn’t an easy question to answer, is it? The answer largely depends on her history and my long-term vision for her future. If this was a one-time event, a bit of grace might be appropriate. But what if this was the third time she’d left her book? Would rescuing her help or hurt? How might my action impact her future behavior?
When talking about children, most of you will probably agree. We understand as parents that sometimes we must do the hard thing. Sometimes we must take away privileges or allow natural consequence to train certain behaviors.
But what if the person needing help is a sister, brother, or parent? Suddenly those clear boundary lines blur, don’t they? Largely because our reaction and perception is rooted in long-establish patterns of behavior.
Let me give another example:
Gary’s Mom has a low-paying job. It’s the fourth job she’s held in four years. She has no health insurance and a mortgage she can’t pay. The Bible says to care for our parents, that he who doesn’t care for their family is evil. The loving son would provide his mom with extra income, would help her find a better job, get settled in a new community, would do whatever is necessary to help, right?
But what if Gary’s actions, although meant to be loving, really hurt his mom by encouraging the behaviors that led to her current situation?
To honestly evaluate the situation and our response to it, sometimes we need to take a step back. We need to look at our family history and the person’s past behaviors as well as our own. Because love and truth must always go hand in hand.
Let’s flash back twenty years. Gary grew up in a tense home with an angry father and a mentally unstable mother. As a child, he learned which behaviors led to the most peace. When dad got angry, he’d perform. When mom got agitated, he’d protect or fix the situation. He took on the role of fixer and protector. And Mom fell into the role of a victim in need of rescue. Over time, these roles strengthened and became normal patterns of behavior. Child and parent began to view this pattern as a display of love. But is this a healthy pattern? And is it truly loving?
These patterns of behavior are similar to those displayed on Intervention, only it’s harder to see them because the consequences don’t seem so dire. Mom’s not passed out drunk or strung out, and the money the son gives her goes to real needs. But Gary’s actions are still damaging if they encourage Mom to continue making poor choices.
I’m often reminded, love is a verb, an action. Emotions are great, but they can be faulty. Emotions tell me to let my daughter play outside even though she should be studying, but love tells me to hold her accountable in order to point her toward maturity.
Sometimes love does the hard thing. Finding the balance, that clear line in our emotional sand, takes prayer, wisdom, and grace. We need to step back from the situation and learn not to own the other person’s problems or emotions. When we do that, our love becomes pure and true, not motivated by guilt, past wounds, or faulty thinking, but instead, by wisdom. Then there’s a higher chance our actions will truly help, not hurt. Empower, not enable.
Jennifer Slattery lives in the Midwest with her husband of sixteen years and their fourteen year old daughter. She’s passionate about seeing lives changed by the radical love of Christ and prays to be a grace and truth filled ambassador for Christ. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, the ACFW Journal, Internet Café Devotions, Jewels of Encouragement, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud (http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com) She’s also written for numerous publications and has placed in numerous writing contests. Connect with her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/JenSlatte) to find out more.