Enabler or Ennobler: Why Can't It Be As Simple As Stop & Go?

Aug 08, 2022

Do you ever struggle with how to help someone?

Why can't life be guided by traffic signals? Red light? Stop! Green light? Full speed ahead!

Why can’t the space between “You’re to give generously” and “You’re being taken advantage of” be a mile wide? Or at least the distance of a football field.

Why can’t there be an equivalent to the 38th parallel between North and South Korea with its warning signs and barbed wire for distinguishing between “Let each person carry their own burden” and “Carry each other’s burdens?”

Why isn’t the distinction between being an “enabler” and an “ennobler” unmistakably clear?

How do we fulfill our first great calling – “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” – when our heart is hurting, our soul is suffering, and our mind is muddled?

If you’ve got a perfect solution for this, please send it to me – with a full release for marketing rights! I’ll be on my way to Musk & Zuckerberg wealth.

I obviously don’t have a one-size-fits-all or even a three-tier answer.

Life is more complex than we’d like, and maturity accepts this reality without resorting to living empowered by anger or disengaging through helplessness.

This is one reason I’m so grateful for Scripture. No, it doesn’t provide easy answers, but it does offer sound principles.

Numerous accounts of Jesus’s healing and helping people don’t include details. Verses recount crowds of people coming to Jesus with the all-inclusive summary “and he healed them.” Yet other times writers of the sacred stories record specifics, such as instructions to act.

Go and wash.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

Rise, pick up your bed.

“Who touched me?”

Stretch out your hand.

“Do you believe?”

Bring him to me.

Put out into the deep.

Cast out your nets.

Distribute food and gather leftovers.

Get into the boat.

Push away from the shore.

Hurry and come down.

Show yourselves to the priest.

Tell no one.

At times Jesus healed people and met their needs without asking anything of them. Other times he required something from them. It may have been as simple as answering a question or as challenging as stepping out of the crowd, risking intense shame and retaliation.

These accounts echo accounts from the Old Testament. God supernaturally provides food and water while Israelites were desert-trekking but stopped once they were able to hunt and gather for themselves. He allocated a cloud to give shade during the day’s heat and a pillar of fire as a furnace during cold nights, but once people could build, cool, and heat their own homes, he expected them to do so. And if they didn’t, well, he let them shiver or sweat. 

I'm pretty sure if I stop brushing my teeth God's not assigning an angel to take over this task. My teeth will rot. My dentist will grow his retirement account. And God will shrug and say, "What'd you think was going to happen?"

It's easy to say “Yes!” to these principles when it’s about historical people whose identities are penned on a page. It’s gut-punching when it’s people whose names are inscribed on your heart. 

I fear sometimes we’ve side-stepped walking out the tension of the truths “Carry one another’s burdens” and “Let each person carry their own burden.” How? By labeling people as “toxic” as if they were a bottle of bleach we needed to shelve or deeming them incapable because of a disorder as if they were a messy bedroom nothing could be done to straighten out.

But doesn’t choosing a full life require walking on the high wire anchored by two truths?

I have no slick, money-back guarantee, five-step program to sell you. Instead, I offer a few thoughts on the opposite – but not contradictory – principles of “Carry one another’s burden” and “Let each person carry their own burden.”

  1. Identify the problem. This means you must ask with the intent to understand, not confirm your opinion. You’d be astounded how this first step so rarely gets taken because people persist in making assumptions rather than inquiries.

You’ll never solve an unnamed problem.

  1. Define the desired outcome. Again, leaving out this obvious step keeps many destructive behavioral patterns occurring because no one’s clearly defined the end goal. What do I believe life would look like if this was resolved to my satisfaction?

Inability to define a desired outcome is a clue somebody’s stuck. 

  1. Brainstorm solutions. This assumes you and/or the person you're helping are genuinely committed to moving forward enough to get away from the ruts, not just out of them far enough to make it easy to slide back.

Inability to craft solutions indicates a mind that’s lazy, frozen by pain, or both.

  1. Evaluate your motive. Are you wanting to help to make yourself feel good? To prove -- to yourself or someone else -- you’re a good/kind/loving/caring person? To rack up points so you can “win” at the “I’m better than you” game?

Are you not wanting to help because you don’t want the inconvenience? You lack patience? You want to pay them back or make them suffer? You don’t want others to know you or they don’t have it all together?

  1. Evaluate their ability. Jesus didn’t tell the blind man to open his eyes before he healed him. He did tell at least one blind man to “go and wash.” Maybe the struggling person can’t stay in an hour-long conversation without getting triggered. But what about ten minutes? Perhaps signing up for a weekend retreat is too big of a step but setting up one counseling appointment isn’t. Maybe cutting off all communication is too much but limiting it to certain times is possible.

People don’t act based on what you believe about their capacities; only what they believe themselves.

  1. Challenge beliefs without belittling them. If a person feels they can’t pick up the phone and make a therapy appointment, but they can order pizza, point this out. The goal isn’t to motivate by shame (never works in the long run) but to introduce truths they can begin to align their thinking to.

People don’t live out truths they don’t know.

  1. Evaluate your relationship in the context of all the other relationships in the person’s life . Now, this is tricky. It’s entirely possible (and common) for someone to be the “great boss,” “amazing friend,” and “best colleague” and be a jerk at home. (It’s seldom the other way around.) Keeping this in mind, ask, “Does this person have healthy, growing, mutually-satisfying, long-term relationships with other family members, friends, and coworkers or is there a pattern of short-lived, one-sided, stagnant, or deteriorating relationships?” Sometimes patterns reveal themselves slowly and privately. Other times they recur quickly and publicly. Either way,

Patterns always reveal hearts.

Do these seven steps replace the need for prayer, counseling, or meaningful conversations with close friends and family members? Not at all! It’s more thoughts to ponder than decisions to make.

Life is complicated because people are complex. It’s impossible to fully know even ourselves, as Scripture tells us only God knows what is in the heart. It’s even more impossible to know the thoughts and intentions of another’s heart. So while we are slow to draw conclusions about ourselves or another person’s capacities or motives, this doesn’t mean we stop asking, observing, and even concluding.

Grace always leads us to truth because it is only when we live aligned with the truth about ourselves, God, and others that we are free to be and become our truest selves. We don’t journey alone, and we’ll have to make numerous decisions about when to carry someone else’s burden and when to let them carry it for themselves.

The distinction is seldom clear, but the difference is always significant: are you enabling or ennobling?

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©Stephanie D. Smith


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