Friday, April 24, 2020

Am I Really Helping Someone to Sin?

I had my codependent socks blown off one day when I realized that all my codependent efforts were helping people to keep on sinning….WHAT?

But I was helping them! I was easing their pain! I wasn’t helping them to rob banks or print counterfeit money! I wasn’t telling them to go out and have an affair! I wasn’t telling them that smoking lawn-clippings was OK!

Was I really helping them to sin? Then I had to face that I was sinning as well.  My attitudes and pride had led me down a road of self-deception…WHAT? 

But I am a nice person!  Yeah, I battle with pride and think the Holy Spirit should follow my lead, but hey, I am not as sinful as those I help!   

Am I Really Doing THAT? 

Let’s break this down. How did I sin in helping others?

Lying is a sin—we would all agree on this.  I lied or embellished about the people I was helping to others.  I was ashamed that those I helped were not improving.  They were actually going deeper into sin and deception.  I didn’t want others to think ill of me or the people I was rescuing.  Or have that “I told you so!” moment at my expense.    

Blaming other people for our failures is based on pride.  Pride is not a Christian virtue.  I would blame other people for not supporting the person I was helping as I did.  My pride said I was right, what I was doing was right, and other people need to get on board and help me.  I would seethe with resentment at others, especially at church.  I hid the anger behind a smile.

I resented the freedom other believers had, because they were not available 24/7 to help broken people.  I saw other believers as less spiritual, less like Jesus.  I judged them and condemned them.  Yet I smiled at them.  I was a hypocrite.  We all know how Jesus felt about hypocrisy.  

I took on people’s failures as my own, as if I could change their will and make them want to get better.  I thought I could do what I judged the Holy Spirit was not doing.  My pride was at stake.  I then plunged deeper into helping them.  Where was Jesus in all of this?  Good question.  But I never waited for the answer. 

I made helping others an idol.  I loved how I was so helpful and available to broken people.  I got a kind of high from it.  I also equated church with God and made it an idol.  So, if someone in church asked me to do something or needed me in some way, it must be God’s will.  My love for God was tangled up with helping out. I lost sight of how we are to love God alone. Helping others is not a substitute for loving God or serving Him.    

How Am I Helping Others to Sin?

 This is a painful but essential question I had to ask myself.  If I help other people to:

·         Lie about their lives, not face reality and join them in their deceived world;  
·         Pretend that all is well, even though it is I who was trying to lessen the consequences;
·         Manipulate me into doing things for them—using guilt, my love for God, or allowing them to emotionally abuse me into compliance;
·         Rage at me or others;
·         Gossip and condemn others;
·         Dismiss my life and its struggles because they want all the attention;  
·         Express their feelings and opinions but are not receptive to mine;
·         Engage in sin and I then make excuses for that behavior;
·         Engage in sin and then allow them to blame me for their behavior;
·         Stay focused on themselves and never bring up Jesus or the Word;
·         Use others—including me--to get their endless list of needs met;
·         Monopolize my time and effort without expecting them to reciprocate;
·         Use me as a stand-in for God…
…How am I honoring God and the “new and living way” He brings us in Jesus? 

How am I pointing them to the Savior who died to take away our sin, not making it easier to sin?

Ponder this:

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a [a]sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:19-25 NASB)

Boom!  My enabling is wrong if it helps me to sin or helps others to sin. 

My enabling is wrong if we both sin trying to create a better life without being fully committed to Jesus.

My enabling is wrong if it puts me in between that person and God. 

A lady at a woman’s event put it so well when I asked her if she is helping her estranged son.  Her response:  “Why would I get in between God and my son?”

A few years ago, I would have run outside, looking for a few stones and then pelted her in the parking lot for being so insensitive.  

My response now?  I said inside, “Amen, sister.  Amen.”

Is there hope for me?

You betcha.

For you?


Why? Jesus is your Hope.

Jesus is my Hope.

Press on, dear friend.   My life verse is a perfect way to help us know we are not alone and we have hope!     

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20 NLT)

Monday, April 13, 2020

What Did I Learn at "ICU"?

I have been enrolled at Intense Codependent University for decades.  I didn’t want this blog to focus on my stories.  I wanted to emphasize the hope and healing I have in Jesus.  I am not an expert on codependence; I have just lived it, in one version or another.  

CoDeWo’s are loving, kind and deeply concerned about other people’s welfare.  We are uncomfortable about boundaries and saying no; we derive spiritual pride from being always available with good advice for people and we want others to be happy.  Our good heart is mixed with broken beliefs about ourselves and others.  We may not seem as broken as the broken person we are trying to help; we may justify our own supposed healthiness by saying,

Hey!  That person came to me!  She must see I am strong and have good things to say!

But in losing our identity to others’ approval, by never having boundaries that allow people in and out of our lives at their will and never probing too deeply as to what is really going on, we engage in our own kind of broken behavior.

We need Jesus and His healing.  The person we are trying to rescue needs Jesus and His healing as well.  Both parties need time. 

Don’t you ever resent being used?  You won’t admit it, but wouldn’t you like to scream,

Fix it yourself!  You got into this mess!  Get yourself out of it!

We may never say such a thing.  Even thinking it puts us smack-dab into the hurricane winds of guilt.  Result?  We run out the door on a rescue mission.  But... The rescuer and the rescuee both need a deeper walk in Christ.    

Why do people use us?  We let them.  We see no other way to be in a relationship.  But if we step away for a moment, and look at them with compassion, aren’t they just in survival mode?  They never had their needs met, and now if we become the way for them to do so, why wouldn’t they take advantage of us?  They are manipulating us because they want to keep on with their lives, and if we provide an easier way to do so, they will use us.

Think of an angler fish.  It’s in the deep dark of the ocean and has a lighted bulb at the end of a long skinny protrusion on its head.  A little fish comes swimming by and sees this light.  It’s attracted to it and swims closer.  The angler fish’s mouth is open wide and once the fish, who cannot see anything but the light, draws too near…  Gulp!  There is now one less fish in the world.  Is that cruel?  Isn’t the angler fish deceiving the little fish, by exploiting its innate attraction to light?  Yes.  But why?  The angler fish wants to survive and meals in the deep dark are hard to come by.  It is in survival mode as it waves that deadly light.

Broken People
The saying, “Hurt people hurt people” is as true as it can be.  All of the people I sought to rescue were, at their deepest core, broken.  Sexual abuse, broken families, time in Viet Nam, mental instability, mental illness, overwhelming pride hiding terrible insecurity, deep anxiety and mind-numbing fear caused the people I tried to help to always be in survival mode.  They did whatever they could to get through their lives. If that included using me, then so be it. They weren’t being deceptive in a malicious way; they saw me as making their lives easier.  I opened the door and in they walked.   

All of my codependent relationships ended badly.  These relationships lasted years and despite endless amounts of time helping, listening, loaning money and praying, I never saw any change.  That doesn’t mean they haven’t changed since our time together; just during the period I knew them, I saw the same attitudes and behaviors over and over again.  The relationships ended badly because broken people have a hard time sustaining relationships.  That is true on both sides.  I had a hard time being with centered people who didn’t need me.  I gravitated only to those whom I perceived needed me.  

Now, at 60 years old, I seek out centered people, but deep inside, I still feel a bit ill at ease. I am still undergoing His healing. I try to no longer beat myself up when I slip.  I accepted Christ at 14, and He has guided me from that time on.  I have still drunk deeply from the well of codependence, but without Him, I sincerely shiver at what my life would have been like. 

What have I learned at ICU? 

·         I would have been more pro-active with broken people by being more willing to speak the truth in love with them. 
·         I would have let certain relationships go sooner when I realized how much I was being lied to and manipulated. 
·         I would given a second chance out of grace and compassion as opposed to 4,321 second chances I gave the person.
·         I would have prioritize my immediate family with more urgency and closed the door on those who would or could not respect that.
·         I would have tried to work things out, knowing that I could not control how the person would respond.  I can only control what I say and do.  If the person did not want to work things out, I would have left sooner.
·         I would have realized that relationships with mentally ill people and mentally unstable people will be one-sided; these people do not have the capacity to reciprocate friendship or get better with non-professional help such as mine.
·         I would have done a lot more face to face conversations, relying on Jesus to give me the words and the wisdom on how to proceed.
·         I would have listened to family members, and gotten their perspective, instead of instantly seeing the person as a victim of everyone, especially family.
·         I would have realized that even people who love Jesus can use people.
·         I would have seen pastors as people; they too can be terribly broken and hide behind their ministry so no one will see how broken they are.   I would have stayed a bit more distant and not looked up to them for everything.  Only Jesus is perfect.
·         I would have stayed more focused on God as my father-figure; human beings are fragile and will hurt even the ones they love. 
·         I would have put on the brakes way sooner on those people who I sensed were relying way too heavily on me and not the Lord.  I would have reminded them and myself of the One we follow and how we should go to His Word for answers.  
·         Hurt families hurt families.  If you don’t prioritize you family from those who would monopolize your life (even extended family!) no one else will. 
·         Sometimes it is very hard to walk away from a relationship.  But I would have put up firmer boundaries and ignored the guilt.  Fences have gates: I would have been better at choosing who to let in, who not let in, and who to slowly close the gate on, limiting access.  Again, I would need Jesus to help me do this.   
·         I would not have given my power away in order to appease people.  I associated anger with violence; I worked hard to keep people happy.  I now know anger and discontentment is inevitable in some relationships, and I won’t get beat up when it happens. Respect on both sides maintains a balance of power; each person listens respectfully and responds respectfully to one another.  Relationships must have balance. If a friendship is constantly unbalanced, I must reevaluate it.
·         I would not have been desperate for friends, and thus ignored the red flags.
·         People cannot meet my needs; only Jesus can.
·         Jesus is my Healer; church, friendships, pastors, and family can all give me gems of wisdom but only Jesus can touch my deepest wounds.

My experiences over the years drove me deeper in enabling others.  You would think it would have had the opposite effect and made me question how I interacted with others.  It didn’t.  Each failure made me want to try even harder the next time.  There was always a next time.  Then one day, I hit a wall.  I was just too tired to rescue anymore.

A New Way of Life
I have had to relearn how to approach others.  My daughter, who is a wonderful social worker, had a lot to do with enlightening me.  She made me see another perspective, one that did not involve doing everything for everybody.  At first I thought she was mean and cruel to others, for she was unwilling to enable the people in her life, and she advised me to do the same. 

How could I?

But each time I realized my resentment and depression were telling me that I needed a new way of dealing with people, I tried little ways of pulling back.  It was tough.

Is it still hard?  Yes, I am still learning how to love others without being co-dependent.  But just as that little caterpillar goes through an awful lot to become a butterfly, so too must I.  But I not alone.  My newer friendships now are nice and calm.  My family stands by me.  Jesus is with my every step of the way.

I will close with a story.  When I was little, I found a caterpillar struggling to get out of a cocoon that had fallen on the ground.  I thought I was being helpful as I peel away the layers of the cocoon in my effort to release the new butterfly within.  To my horror, I was also pulling away its wings.  The wings were wrapped up in the layers and part of its struggle was to strengthen its wing muscles and let the wings separate and dry out.  I, in my hurt for this little creature, killed it.

It is painful but true.  But if we step in and try to “help” people who need to go through God’s process (not ours) for them, we may tear off their wings.

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Way Out

Change is not as hard when you partner with Jesus.  I have used the Word, counselors, and medication for my severe depression.  I have attended lots of Bible studies to help me navigate my way clear of always feeling under the codependent gun.

Earlier, we explored 1 Corinthians 10:13: 
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (NIV) [temptation and tempted can also be translated testing and tested] (NIV Study notes)

You will be tempted or tested to just dive in and rescue someone who has triggered that loving response in you.  The problem is the way you will go about it is unhealthy for you and unhealthy for the person you want to help.  So, this verse gives us some excellent guidelines.

God is Faithful
First, your response is not unique.  There are many of us who just react to others’ pain and want to take it away quickly.  So, I am not alone in this, nor are you.  But God is working to grow you.  These tests do just that, for we must decide then and there who we are going to draw upon: our own resources or on God? 

God is faithful.  You do not enter a time of testing alone.  If you choose to rely on God, He won’t allow you to be overwhelmed.  

Paul put it very well when he said,  
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

Paul endured a tremendous amount of pain and persecution for the sake of the Gospel.  But he knew the mightiness of the One he served:
For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.  We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.  This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT)

He also knew that there is nothing in the universe that can separate us from God’s love: 
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?... And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 38-39 NLT)

So, dear one, even if you are overwhelmed by the needs you see in others, and feel you are being tested to the breaking point in how to handle the situation in a new and healthy way, let’s return to our key verse.  

Remember how we looked at the phrase, “a way out” or “a way of escape”?  The word in Greek means “exit.”  So, I have learned that God will make a way for me to walk out of a situation that needs to end.  Is it easy?  No.  You will still be afraid and anxious as you follow the Lord out of a situation that for you seems impossible. You will probably be guilt-ridden for a while afterwards; that’s OK, for it is never easy to hand over people you care about to God. 

Remember how I talked about that burning building and how our Firefighter comes to lead us out?  We think of those we are helping in the burning building.  We rushed in to save them, not allowing the Firefighter to do His work. 

When He leads us out, we will want to run back in and save them.  But they have the same Firefighter as we do, and He wants to take their hand as well.  If they refuse and stay in the building, that is their choice.

Paul and The Corinthian Church
Paul was faced with a terrible burning building.  In the first letter to the Corinthians, he was aghast that a man was sleeping with his stepmother. (1 Corinthians 5) 

He was adamant that this man should be removed from the church there, because he claimed to be a believer yet was behaving in an atrocious way.  Talk about needing to speak truth into the situation!  Paul did just that and wrote in this first letter to the church at Corinth to deal with this man in no uncertain terms. 

Now, in his second letter to this church, he says,    
I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.
Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. My purpose, then, was not to write about who did the wrong or who was wronged. I wrote to you so that in the sight of God you could see for yourselves how loyal you are to us. We have been greatly encouraged by this. (2 Corinthians 7:8-13 NLT)

Do you see what happened?  Paul was “severe,” yes, but he did it in love for the church and for this sinful brother. 

God wants us to repent of our sin.  Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,  wanted the church to step up and let this man know he needed to repent.  It is interesting that “sorrow” in God’s hands can lead a person out of sin and into forgiveness and restoration. Just making people feel bad is not what Paul is advocating here.  The Holy Spirit must move deeply in the heart of the one who is sinning as well as in the hearts of those who seek the restoration of this person.  “Godly sorrow” leads to freedom and Paul is so glad that the church acted on Spirit-led directions.

Did the man repent?  Paul says earlier in this letter:
I wrote that letter in great anguish, with a troubled heart and many tears. I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you.  I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me. Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.  I wrote to you as I did to test you and see if you would fully comply with my instructions. When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:4-11)

Paul didn’t enjoy confronting the church over this issue.  But the church was at sake, and this man was at sake.  What if Paul had downplayed the seriousness of the matter?  Paul compares sin to yeast in dough, and how only a little can affect so much.  In fact, when Paul first confronts this issue about the man, he is appalled that the church is “boasting” about it. (1 Corinthians 5:6-7).  The people at Corinth saw nothing wrong with this man’s behavior.  Perhaps they thought they all had such freedom in Christ that if this man wanted to hook up with his father’s wife, who were they to judge?

The very people who may need for you to speak the truth to may have a whole group siding with them, and your voice may seem small in comparison.  A little sin goes a long way and adversely affects a lot of people beyond the original person.  So, you may be called by God to say such words as “sin,” “repentance” and “forgiveness” to these people.  It will not be easy.  Paul found it hard but the Holy Spirit gave him the strength to advise, guide and warn. 

Prayer is the Greatest Gift of All
Perhaps the Holy Spirit will call you to pray.  Praying for someone is the greatest gift you can give.  As CoDeWo’s, we feel better when we are doing something. But consider prayer doing something BIG:
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16 NLT)
This is one of my favorite verses, and I could have written this book with just this one verse in it:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)

That says it all.  You may be called by God to pray this person through a situation; you may be called to speak truth into this person’s life, or you may be called to assist in a limited way to ease some of the suffering. 

Prayer is the key.  What am I to do, Lord? is the motto of a recovering CoDeWo. The “What to do” is found in prayer.  It will take time for God to answer.  But time waiting on Him is never wasted.
Just like Jesus, we do nothing more or nothing less—only do what you know you are called to do. 

But what if I do not know what to pray? 

The Word’s got you covered:
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26 KJV)

But why would God listen to me?  

The Word’s got you covered:
All who follow the leading of God’s Spirit are God’s own sons. Nor are you meant to relapse into the old slavish attitude of fear—you have been adopted into the very family circle of God and you can say with a full heart, ‘Father, my Father.’ The Spirit himself endorses our inward conviction that we really are the children of God. Think what that means. If we are his children we share his treasures, and all that Christ claims as his will belong to all of us as well! Yes, if we share in his suffering we shall certainly share in his glory. (Romans 8:15 Phillips)

But what do I say?  What kind of comfort do I give?  
The Word has an answer for that as well:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

You are never alone in this journey. 

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