The kids piled into the minivan, and as we pulled out onto the street, my fourth grade son suddenly remembered his one homework assignment: bring poster board to class. So I did what all good mothers do. After dropping three kids off at school, with a baby on my hip, I put my own plans aside, raced to the store, purchased some poster board, and brought it to his teacher. Feeling like a hero, I was surprised to be greeted with anything less than praise and gratitude for rescuing my son from the serious wound of humiliation directly caused by his not having poster board. Instead, in front of the class, I was greeted with, “Oh, I am sorry Mrs. Phelps. I can’t accept that from you. It was not your homework assignment. It was your son’s.”
You would think after being called out in front of 20 fourth-graders, I would have learned my lesson. But as a young mom who believed that saving my children from all discomfort was a reflection of my love, I continued to jump to the rescue, no matter the cost. Forgot your backpack? I am on my way! Left your lunch on the kitchen table? I’ll bring it right over! Math assignment on the your bedroom floor? Give me ten minutes...I can swing by the school!
It’s what we do. Convinced that without our help something tragic will happen to them, we love out of fear and we help to control; all the while thinking we are just doing our job.
But it is not our job.
It is God’s job.
And last time I checked, he wasn’t looking to retire.
In the secular world, we call this enabling. It is excusing, justifying, ignoring, denying, or smoothing over a behavior. Not because we support or condone it, but because we are so incredibly anxious and affected by it; not because we approve of our loved ones choices, but because we can not bear to see them walk through the consequences. I tell you this, sweet friend, with authority, as I am a recovering professional enabler. I tried so hard to keep my own child from having to deal with that one big crisis that I managed to prolong the problems by keeping him and my family living in a constant state of smaller crises. At best, a distorted attempt to solve problems, I never did succeed at removing his suffering, but sadly, only postponed it.
How many of us are wasting our time and energy trying to prevent our loved ones from suffering? And how many of us, if we are being honest, aren’t stepping in to clean up their mess because of their potential pain, but rather, because of our own? Let’s face it. It hurts to watch a loved one hurt. It is so much easier to just do for them what we know we can do so that unpleasant conflict is avoided, hard consequences are erased, and can we move on with life.
I have sat in enough circles to finally understand that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the person it belongs to. As a firm believer in therapy that is rooted deeply in faith, I’d like to take this a step further and say that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the God it belongs to.
This thought was confirmed yesterday as my Walking With Purpose small group discussed healthy boundaries and relationships in the Keeping In Balance study. Galatians 6:2 teaches that we ought to bear one another’s burdens. But verse 5 commands us to bear our own load. This is some game-changing truth to chew on. Lisa Brenninkmeyer further explains:
Loads are made up of things we’re all expected to do for ourselves. We are to help one another with burdens, but be responsible for our own loads. When do we get into trouble? When we find ourselves carrying others’ loads or refusing to compassionately help others carry their burdens.¹
Raise your hand right now if you are carrying someone else’s load, and ask yourself...why? What am I afraid will happen to my loved one if I hand this load back over to him/her? What am I afraid will happen to me if I do not carry if for him/her?
Handing over a load that we have been trying to carry and control, all in the name of love, is no small matter. It is painfully hard. But you know what’s even harder? Never letting it go. Not because it will exhaust the one who is doing the carrying, but because of the message it sends to the one who was meant to carry it in the first place. The message that, “You aren’t able to carry this. You are not strong enough. God might not show up, so I must step in.”
I shared my exhaustion in confession. I told the priest that I felt like I have been handed a giant clay cistern full of water and holes. Each hole is one of my children, and every time I get one hole covered up, another hole starts spouting. “I feel like it is my responsibility to keep every hole covered...like it is my job to spackle everything...keeping everything smooth...everything at peace.” And the priest, in love, corrected me: “You are not the spackler.”
Not only are we not the spacklers, but in attempting to be so, we add unnecessary stress to our lives. The fact is, no life is without suffering, our pain has purpose, and we gain nothing but an anxious heart when we believe otherwise. The love we have for others is not measured in how much our hands carry, but rather, in how much we place in the hands of God.
Your Sister in Christ,
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping In Balance (Walking With Purpose, October 2018) p.66
There is such grace in getting older. Such wisdom in perspective. When I was younger, I viewed problems as obstacles; unfair circumstances that got in the way of my living the life I believed I desired and deserved. And maybe it is not so much my age, but the fact that I feel like I have been so beaten down by trial and tragedy; beaten down to nothing, that "being small,” as St. Therese instructs us to be, is not something I choose to be on my own, but something that just happened, hit after hit, blow after blow.
But I know it is more than just that.
'Something amazing happens when I accept my hardships as a gift from Him, and ask Him HOW I can best navigate myself and my family through these troubled waters, versus WHY did you send me this trial? The moment I stop complaining, I can hear Him.'
We all have a choice as to how we respond to life's blows and disappointments, and we all know how much easier it is to make the unhealthy, unproductive, poor choice, right? We can choose bitterness or forgiveness, love or indifference, judgement or compassion, argument or discussion, blame or understanding, life or death. And more often than not, I would have to say, I think we tend to choose the not-so-great response.
Not sure about that? Go check out your Facebook account, then get back to me and tell me what you think.
Reacting out of emotion, and trust me, I speak from personal experience here, is useless. Rarely does it ever make you feel better or result in a happy resolution. It is okay to get angry, it is okay to voice our opinions, it is okay to cry and to protest and to fight for what we believe in, but there needs to be a pause button. Somewhere in between the anger and boiling blood, sometime before we sharpen our tongues and throw verbal darts at each other, we really all need to take a step back, and hit pause.
You know, when I do this...which is not as often as I should...but those times when I do this; when I take this pause and do a quick heart and soul check, you know what I find? Buried beneath the anger, hiding at the bottom of my bitter-soaked heart, I find fear. Somewhere underneath the big, loud reaction, is a small, scared voice. And I realize...I am afraid.
And yet, what do we hear Jesus say, over and over and over again?
Be not afraid. Be not afraid.
But I am. No matter how many times I read it, I still am.
Because as soon as I take my eyes off of Him, and fix them on the ocean of troubles below me, like Peter taking steps out onto the ocean, I start to sink. You see, when we refuse to respond with trust in Him, and instead, choose to cling to our reactions based on how we feel, trust flies fast out the window, and we are left to be drowned. Drowned, not by our circumstance, but by our own fear.
Turning to scripture, I find unusual encouragement in words I have failed to notice before.
We are not only instructed, "Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid" (John 14:16)
but we are also told that these hardships we try to pray away? They are necessary.
"It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God." (Acts of the Apostles 14:19-28, read it all)
Do you know what necessary means?
Necessary means needed.
That thing you hate with your entire heart and soul?
That tragedy? That illness? That disaster? That heartache? That break up? That loss?
It is needed.
You NEED it.
And I can imagine, that some will read that, and shut their computer off and walk away angry. And I get it. Boy, do I get it. These are the kind of verses that tempt us to toss scripture aside, call it all crazy, and give up on God. Hard biblical sayings, often misinterpreted, have sent many running off to another place of worship, a church with “fewer rules,” or perhaps to follow some other false idol that is not so uncomfortable; one that feels good and offers immediate gratification.
Because who in their right mind wants to be told that the very thing that is weighing on their shoulders, and pressing on their chest, and keeping them up at night, and feels like it will absolutely kill them, is NECESSARY?
What kind of God does that?
And so maybe this is something for us to think about today.
Maybe you are going through a hardship right now that you see as a problem, an obstacle, an impossibility, or simply unfair. Maybe you are a victim of a misunderstanding, a injustice, a personal devastation. And if so, meditate with me, on the word necessary.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand.
Let us pray to recall that His ways are not our ways, and He works all things for good.
It has taken me years to see and believe that every single hardship that I encounter actually was, and is, necessary. This does not mean I like it. This does not mean I do not crumble beneath it all, often. This does not mean I do not get on bended knees and try to pray it all away. This does not mean I do not ever doubt or get suspicious of God's plan. Because I have done, and still do, all of this. There are more days than I care to admit, that I wish I could simply pray it all away.
But then...something happens.
Something miraculous happens when I stop yelling at God, and begging Him to change my circumstances. Something amazing happens when I accept my hardships as a gift from Him, and ask Him HOW I can best navigate myself and my family through these troubled waters, versus WHY did you send me this trial? The moment I stop complaining, I can hear Him. The moment I stop fighting His plan for me, I soften. And it is here in this place that He assures me of His faithfulness. It is here, in this hardship, that I am reminded of how much He loves me. And it is here, in this unpleasant place, that I remember that this world is not my home, and I have my eyes set on something so much better. And it is right here, where I am washed over by His merciful grace, and I am no longer afraid.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/
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