Many years ago (I am now in my 6th generation), I was sent by my then pastor to a 12 step group for help to deal with a loved one’s multiple addictions. I learned a very important lesson there. I learned that no one can control or change another person. It is a very important lesson to know for freedom comes in knowing that. The weight of feeling as if I must do something to turn that person’s life around (behaviourly speaking…I am not talking about helping with sustenance) is lifted.
Years later, I would see affirmation of that lesson from other places in things I read or simply in observing other people. The same lesson was there. Whether it is physical therapy, counseling therapy or even a job, there is absolutely NOTHING a person can do to make the person change or get better.
A physical therapist can show a client what they need to do…even walk them through it. But the client has to do the work herself. A counselor can point a person to answers and ways to change behaviours, but the client still has to do it himself. An employer can show the employees how to properly do that job and explain the rules, but they cannot force the employee to do it. It is no different when trying to reach the lost. You can point out scripture after scripture to them, but if their hearts are not open to receive it, it will not bring about any real change. A person has to WANT to be changed. They have to WANT to know the truth. Unless that is the case, you can talk until you are blue in the face and it won’t make any difference in their lives.
So what is the answer to the question? No…and yes! There is nothing we can do to change a person, but pointing them in the right direction IS a form of helping them. And, sometimes, simply getting out of the way and allowing natural consequences to fall is also a form of help. Ultimately, they have to make the choice, but you can keep encouraging them to make that choice.
Another thing to realize is that we cannot give someone the motivation to do what they need to do to change. Some people will start to see negative consequencse to their thinking and behaviours and decide they have had enough. They are willing to do what is needed to be changed. But others have to hit rock botton.They have to lose everything and everyone and be totally destitute before they are willing to get real help and do the work to change. It is a very hard thing to watch and we can only hope and pray that the person will not die or get seriously hurt on the way down.
While we cannot give a person motivation to change, we can encourage them and cheer them on in any effort they do make. If they are not bringing harm into our lives, we can continue to try and be a positive influence on them.
We can also rob them of, or prevent them from getting, the much needed motivation to change. How so? By getting in the way and not allowing needed consequences to fall. Every time I interfere in allowing consequences to fall, I am getting in the way. It is not enough to tell the person about the possible consequences, I need to actually allow them to fall. And, believe me, that is HARD!!
I was in a situation years ago where I was rescuing a person. Would it have made a difference if I had allowed that person to just fall? Yes, but it might not have been the difference that would have been good. That is where it gets tricky. I rescued because allowing this person to fall would have had serious consequences in my family. Very serious. But…was I trusting G-d in not allowing him to fall? Eventually, it all fell apart and I had to trust G-d anyway. I truly do not know if allowing the fall to come earlier would have been better and maybe prevented the later falling apart. I have no way of knowing. I do know, though, that he is no better now than he was many years ago. At least, that is what I have heard. So, maybe it was just a matter of waiting until I was strong enough to extricate us from his control? I don’t know the answer to that.
G-d wants what is good for a person…to grow and become the man or woman He has created them to be. Out spiritual adversary wants the opposite. So, our adversary will hit us with things like, “but what if this person really goes way out there? How can I let that happen? How can I turn them away? Isn’t that being unChristlike? Isn’t that being coldhearted and cruel?” and all sorts of other thoughts. And the answers are not always going to be the same in every situation or with every person!
Think about this. We have to be willing to set our own feelings aside and truly listen to the Holy Spirit. If need be, we should seek counsel. If we just act on those thoughts…some of which are lies from the pit…we can be acting out of fear rather than faith and, in the long run, that can hurt the person we are trying to help and may even hurt others, too. Let me repeat that because it is soooooo important. If we just act on those thoughts…some of which are lies from the pit…we can be acting out of fear rather than faith and, in the long run, that can hurt the person we are trying to help and may even hurt others, too. We can end up contributing to someone being out there a lot longer because we kept getting in the way. Being out there longer means G-d has to increase the seriousness of the situations in that person’s life in order to get that person’s attention. It means that person could end up doing something more serious because he or she was not stopped earlier.
For example, if someone steals from me, I will most likely not allow them into my house again. That person will suffer the consequence of losing the privilege of coming over to dinner or watching a show with me in my living room. Of course, if she/he shows what seems to be sincere repentance, I will relent. However, if they do it again, I will not be so likely to believe the repentance story. Sooner or later, they WILL suffer the consequences of being a thief, but it might be a lot more serious when they steal from someone else. An uncaught thief gets bolder and bolder until he is finally caught with something more serious.
Same thing if I catch someone lying to me. Every single thing they have told me up to that point instantly becomes suspect. I no longer take their word for anything. The consequence of lying to me is that you lose the privilege of being in my inner circle. There is now a wall between us. Even if you repent, you will have to earn my trust back. If you keep on lying to me, you will end up losing the privilege of coming into my home and, eventually, of being in my life. I will recognize the “repentance” for the manipulation it most likely is.
If I keep allowing someone to lie and still be part of my life, I am (even though I tell them differently with my words) basically showing them it is OK to keep lying. You keep lying and I will keep telling you it is wrong, but I won’t allow you to suffer any real serious consequences for it. Eventually someone else will give consequences for lying. Only this time, it could be either loss of a job or even jail time if they lie under oath. Of course, this can be hard if you are not sure they are actually lying to you. Again, this whole thing can be tricky. And it is possible the lying person has a mental issue. I believe the person I knew from many years ago was a pathological liar. Could I have pushed him to get help? Nope. And pushing too hard would have brought serious consequences to our family. Sometimes, you have to weigh the consequences to everyone in that person’s circle.
Stealing and lying are serious things to me. They aim at the core of the heart…and at my ability to trust a person. They also can have serious consequences in other avenues of life.
Sometimes we (no matter how well-intentioned) can actually get in the way of someone hitting a much needed bottom and becoming seriously motivated to change or get the real help needed. What starts out as a few incidents becomes a pattern and a pattern becomes a lifestyle.
We all have things to learn. And, thankfully, Abba uses every opportunity to teach us…if we will listen. If we don’t listen…and obey…He will just keep bringing the lesson around again. May we all pay attention! And may we all seek wisdom to know when to push and when to wait…when to support and when to withdraw support. There are no easy answers.