While towns, counties and the State of Washington struggle to find balance between huge budget deficits and programs for the less-fortunte, Christians are in the thick of the arguments. Who do we really need to help?
Melody Beattie wrote her blockbuster book, “Codependent No More” and was a self-help sensation. But do contemporary Christians fit the definition better than most?
Codependency is an addiction to people, behaviors or things. Codependents do for others what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. At its root, this extreme form of caretaking is all about control. “If I help you I’ll feel better about myself. As a bonus, you wouldn’t dare leave me.”
Is codependent enmeshment not just tolerated, but encouraged in the church?
“The Bible tells me to be kind and loving, to do unto others as I want done for me. Jesus took care of lots of people. Was he codependent? All I’m doing is what my faith tells me I’m supposed to do.”
Too many pastors have said to a loyal parishioner, “God is depending on you.” “Only you can do this for our church.” “God has put it on my heart that you are the right one to take care of…” Eventually even the faithful burnout.
In reviewing the Gospels’ vivid descriptions of Jesus’ ministry, he didn’t do for others what they could reasonably do for themselves. He turned water into wine. He fed thousands with five fishes and a couple loaves of bread. He healed the sick. He cast out demons. He brought the dead back to life.
Even the most practiced codependent couldn’t pull those off.
Furthermore, Jesus commanded people do what they didn’t think they could do for themselves. Crippled man, get up and walk. Adulteress woman, go and sin no more. Blind man, become what you believe. Peter, walk on the water. Doubting Thomas, believe. Town harlot, go in peace.
After Jesus healed the crippled man, he didn’t pick up the man’s pallet, carry it home for him and say “Rest awhile and recuperate from your horrible ordeal. I’ll take care of you until you get your strength back.”
Too many Christians believe that their God-given assignment is to reduce others’ suffering– eradication would be even better. Thus justified they set their course, sacrificing personal spiritual growth on the altar of addictive caretaking.
There’s a huge difference between choosing to suffer, and choosing God’s will even if it means we will suffer. A matured follower of Christ knows that first, we are called to live in God’s will without concern for the consequences. Obedience is paramount. And second, we should never dare to interfere with the lessons God is teaching in another’s life.
When misguided sympathy is extended the message is, “God is making your life harder than it needs to be.” And when Christians exercise their rescuing superpowers, it says, “Even with God’s help, you can’t do it without me.” Both statements are a lie.
The other problem when with rescuing behaviors is it denies God’s sovereignty. The rescuer is really saying, “Trust me. I know what is best for you. I’ll be your god.”
Maturing includes years of wrong turns, hurt feelings and impure motives. But God doesn’t need help from codependents when his children are in trouble. Whenever there is an attempt to mitigate another’s self-created suffering, the path to holiness is disrupted for both persons.
Authentic obedience to God means sometimes upsetting the plans others have made. “Are you going to help me or not?” “You have the money, why can’t you loan me enough for the rent, the bail, the new dress, etc.?”
Friends and relatives are often quick to judge Christians with healthy boundaries. “And you call yourself Christian? I sure can’t see it. Aren’t you supposed to help people?” Anyone who asks the questions wouldn’t understand the answer.
When disciples of Jesus experiences a lack of visible progress in their spiritual life, codependency may be the culprit. A few questions will clarify the issue.
Am I willing to be obedient to God even if it means someone I love will be angry? Whose life has become more important to me than my own? Why? Who do I care about so little that I’m willing to interfere with the lessons God has for them? When did I stop trusting God to be sovereign in both our lives?
If any of my answers start with, “Yes, but…” more prayer is needed, not more action.
Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Luke 5:24)