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Helping, enabling and forgiveness – OH MY! – September 1, 2017

By Jo Ann Carpenter


My parents always taught me to help around the house, pitch in at school and church, and to assist others any way I could.  As kids in our neighborhood, we would take snow shovels to the neighbors and clean out their driveways, collected money for flowers when someone on our block passed away, and helped anyone who needed us.

I remember as an adult a dear neighbor lost her son in a tragic auto accident.  Because I was a hairdresser I went to her home to help her fix her hair for her son’s funeral.  It was a way to help, to make a small difference, in her life, in a time of need.

The word “help” is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as:

  1. To give assistance or support to
  2. To make more pleasant or bearable
  3. To be of use to
  4. To change for the better

The word “help” is an action verb to me!  Get involved, do something to make a difference.  Assist someone in need to make life more pleasant or bearable.  Work toward a positive change to make something better for someone.

Several years ago, while counseling a man who was asking me for help, I ended an hour-long conversation by saying to him, “Until you are ready to do the hard work to change your life, there is nothing I can do to help you.”

Yikes!  What did I just say? That I was not willing to help this man? That goes against everything I was taught as a child and how I have lived my life as an adult.

My dialog to myself is help, do more, work harder, try something different, find a solution to their problem, and don’t give up!  But that day I realized I could not change him no matter how much I wanted to.  Counselors tell you this all the time.  We cannot change another person; our only power is how we choose to deal with the person’s behavior.  It was my real AHA moment!

Now, the word enable… what does that mean?  In the past several decades, according to Merriam-Webster, enable has started to take on a new associated sense in the field of addiction.  Now, enabling is viewed as giving misguided support to a person with some substance-abuse or other addictive issues.

So if someone is asking us to help them with their situation, how do we help without enabling?  I believe help is always the first step, to give assistance and support!  When they are ready to tackle the challenge then we are off to the races!  But if they continue to make excuses, lie, and backslide how do we know, when it is time to offer tough love?

Sometimes it only takes hearing the word “no” just once to get someone’s attention.  And occasionally the reaction is anger that we are not going to help anymore, but instead, ask for that person to be accountable for their actions and decisions!  When we realize we are doing all the hard work, when we are allowing the addictive tendencies to continue with no consequences, then we have crossed the line from helping to enabling.

At Refuge of Hope, we want to help homeless men transition from their current situations into an independent life!  We want them to be free from additions or the tendencies that led them to be homeless in the first place.  When a man fails a drug or alcohol test they know they must leave the shelter for a period of time.  Does that mean we no longer want to help them?  Of course not!

We will still provide support to them through the Meal Ministry and anyway we can except provide shelter for them, for a period of time.  But we will not enable their behavior.  No matter how much we like the person and care about them, their destructive conduct will not be tolerated.

Not only will that negatively impact them, if we enable it, but it will also send the wrong message to the men who are doing well in their journey to a clean and sober lifestyle.

Did I ever see that young man again?  Yes, I did.  He is still living his lifestyle and has not yet made the decision to seek help from us.  Until he makes the decision all I can do is lift him up in prayer.

I hope to see him again, and I pray that someday I will be able to help him.  After all that is what I was taught to do as a child, learned to do as an adult, and now serve God by serving others at Refuge of Hope!

…what about forgiveness?  Check our blog post next week!!