Excellent concern. After being co-dependent for as long as I can remember--living a life meeting everyone’s needs, basking in their approval and shrinking from conflict--I couldn’t imagine any other way of living. Period. You might as well have asked me to emigrant to a foreign country, convert to the national religion and eat foods that still had multiple legs and antennae, having been slapped on a grill and served with some kind of unrecognizable grain.
In other words, no way. No how. Nada.
Think about it this way:
If you love to sing, you sing.
If you love to dance, you dance.
If you love to read, you read.
If you love people and hate to see them struggle, and they unload their burden on you when you are too young to understand that the burdens are not for you to carry, you become co-dependent.
Now, fast forward:
If no one shows you what key a song is in, you risk hitting notes that are either sharp or flat.
If no one shows you how to warm up before dancing, you risk injury.
If no one shows you what books are written for your age, you might be exposed to ideas that will haunt you.
If no one shows you how to love people without their problems being your problems, you will associate love with being needed, and your life will merge into theirs.
So, let’s return briefly to the desert, where Moses is dealing with ungrateful grumbling ex-slaves who bemoan their freedom and long to return to Egypt. These people are classic triggers for us co-dependent people: they are endlessly needy; they want help from us but are unwilling to contribute; they make us feel needed and wanted by bewailing their situation; and they make us feel that we must help them, for no one else will.
We will view scene through the lens of how a co-dependent would react. How we see the world as co-dependents is not healthy, but it is familiar:
That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?”
And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4)
I would have stepped in and said, “I will help you!” I would have spent the whole evening telling them how maybe Egypt was not so bad; how we can cope if we have a better attitude; maybe we should move on and find another place to go.
In other words, I would have avoided the heart of the problem, because I hate conflict: These people are rebelling against God. Period.
Look at the leaders’ reaction:
Then Moses and Aaron fell face down in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Number 14:5-9)
Joshua and Caleb are stunned. Moses and Aaron are utterly devastated by the people’s reaction. Not because of people’s anger against them but how the people are blaspheming God by their insinuation that all the mighty deeds He performed are going to lead to their demise. In other words, they will not trust Him nor His leaders, despite all He has done for them.
In other words, they prefer the sinful land of Egypt with its slavery to a pagan people who have a god for everything, over serving the One True God.
Whoa. This is an insult to God of the highest degree. The way the leaders are responding shows that they understand how treasonous the people are being.
The land is good. God is good. Obedience to Him will lead to success and blessing. The people in the Land are no match for the people of God—Egypt was a demonstration of that truth over and over. Would I have been willing to call the people out as did Joshua and Caleb? Rebellion is sin, pure and simple. Am I willing to call out a sin in someone when God calls me to? Unbelief is a sin, and comes from a rebellious heart. This heart says, “I don’t need You, God. I will go my own way, do my own thing and then blame You when it all goes south.”
Belief in God’s Son Jesus, His death, burial and resurrection is the core of the Gospel. The Gospel tells us how God is satisfied and how we enter into the truth of His Son. Look how the writer of Hebrews puts it:
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,
‘So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’
‘They shall never enter my rest.’
And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”
Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:
‘Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.’
do not harden your hearts.’
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works] just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-11)
That sinning in the desert provides a rich lesson for us co-dependents, for if a person is actively or even passively refusing to believe in what God has provided, when we step in and try to mitigate the consequences of their choices, we are getting in the way of that person being confronting by the Holy Spirit as to what they are doing.
That’s a lot to consider, because our motives are good. But good motives never saved anyone. The Holy Spirit’s calling the heart of a person, which may take years and years, is the only way someone truly feels conviction and repents. If Joshua and Company had settled for a quick fix to the people in the desert, and either took them back to Egypt, downplayed how rebellious they were being toward God or settled in the desert itself, bypassing the Promised Land altogether, how different would the world be today.
God had a plan to use His chosen people to bring forth His Son: the Messiah, the ultimate Joshua, the Deliverer, the One who would lead us into the Promised Land, which is dwelling in the presence of His Father and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. I am grateful for such powerful and non-compromising leaders that stood in the desert against the people and their sin. We, as believers, benefited from such obedience.
How do we start re-examining the world and all its neediness without automatically jumping into, “Oh, let me help you /rescue you /make your life better/ignore your choices/not call out the truth!” Good question.
Let’s start with the verses immediately following the above verses about rebellion, unbelief and sin:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb. 4:12-13)
God’s Word has the power to inform us as to how to pursue the right course. It is animated by God’s own Spirit, and keeps us grounded when we want to read off our own script. We do not face this process alone. Check out the next verses right after this:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)
Jesus is always there to assist us on how to navigate those moments when we try to meet everyone’s needs, with no questions asked, and we start to feel burdened and resentful. What do we do then?
- Say, “I will get back to you on this.”
- Go to the Word
- Go to Jesus
- Apply the truth you have been shown by His Spirit
No quick fixes here. No jumping in. No sense of “I must do this for this person.” (Has God told you to do this? Or are you just reacting?)
God, through His Son, has led us into His Sabbath-rest. There are many who wander in the desert (Christians included) who would rather grumble, mumble, question God and blame others for their lives than confront the truth: they are sinning. They love yanking us out of our Sabbath-rest and making us wander with them.
Whew. We will keep going next time, and pursue how we will manage: by looking closely at Jesus.