There is a distinct difference between someone in need and someone that is irresponsible. Someone who is in need is the person who lacks control over their situation, and has often run out of options. Someone who is irresponsible is the person who often makes poor decisions, yet won’t take responsibility for said decisions.
Dictonary.com defines “irresponsible” in three different ways:
We can be both in need and irresponsible at different times or even at the same time. None of us are immune to either, but we always have a choice when facing either scenario. Irresponsibility can be a choice we make when in need. And we can cause ourselves to become needy due to our irresponsibility.
Who and When Do We Help?
So, when is it our responsibility to help someone in need, and when are we enabling them in their bad choices and behavior? Sometimes it’s hard to know in the beginning. Let’s take, for instance, someone who is homeless. We can make a ton of judgements about them without ever having spoken to them. and especially without knowing their true situation. We can decide in our heads that they are there because of their irresponsibility. They look healthy and capable, so why can they not get a job? Or, they must be on drugs or using all of that money for alcohol. Another one is that they are just simply lazy. Any or all of these could very well be true, and there is a reason we feel this way about them. But, these scenarios are not true for all of them. Some of them truly are in serious need. The thing in this type of situation is that God convicts each of our hearts differently towards each of these people, and we get to choose whether to listen or not. We shouldn’t get to decide if we think they are worthy or not. Oftentimes, I try to go out of my way to give them a meal. No matter what, every human with or without money could use food. This gives an opportunity to reach out without enabling a possible behavior issue. If you stick around to eat the meal with them, this gives an opportunity to show Jesus, to give this person connection and relationship, even if it’s just this one time. There may be times when we are convicted to give money, and that’s what we should do. We should not hold them to do with this gift what we say they ought to do. A gift is a gift, not a loan or a rental.
But, when it comes to personal relationships, it’s both a little easier and harder. We don’t have as much connection with a person on the street as we would someone we already have an existing relationship with. It’s harder to say no to someone we have to look into the eyes of on a regular basis. It’s also hard to say no to someone we feel as though we owe something to. Let me tell you this, though, oftentimes our “no” is one hundred times healthier and more loving than our “yes”. We say yes because we think it’s the most loving thing to say. We want to give those we love what they want. We want to see them happy. Oftentimes in this thought process, we are neglecting to acknowledge that their happiness now might mean devastation later. We shouldn’t be looking to the temporary satisfaction, but to longterm health. I use this analogy often, but if your child says it would make them happy if you would let them touch the hot stove right now, would you let them? I hope not. They don’t know what they are asking for. They don’t know that in getting what they want, they are causing a long-term disaster. I am not calling you to prevent every disaster or natural consequence that they may bring on themselves. That is not for us to decide or try to control. We can warn, we can say no, we can enforce our boundaries, but we can never control someone’s choices. They are going to do what they do. It is up to us to be clear about our boundaries, and it is for us to enforce those boundaries during and after those choices. If it’s a bad choice, the after portion of our boundaries is when we may have to enforce consequences (yes, sometimes even when it isn’t our children).
It’s so easy to say yes when we want to say no in trying to avoid conflict. It’s even easier to just let things “slide” after a boundary is crossed. The problem isn’t just that we are creating a toxic relationship and environment, but we are setting ourselves up to let bitterness take root in our hearts. If we give our insincere yes, instead of our healthy no, we aren’t happy about it, so we shouldn’t pretend that we are. I’m not saying to give an angry, bitter, or manipulative yes instead of pretending happiness in the yes. I’m encouraging a very healthy, burden lifting no in order to create order where it has been compromised. Will this create conflict? Most likely. Will it be scary and uncomfortable? Yes. But, if you never have conflict, you will never be good at handling it in a healthy way. Choices should never be made in light of trying to avoid conflict. Yes, God calls us to peace (Romans 12:18), but true peace doesn’t come from dodging conflict at all costs. When Jesus was here on earth, He ran into conflict all of the time. It was the way He handled the conflict that made the difference. He wasn’t going to let people dodge truth just so He could “keep the peace”. Peace based on lies is not true peace. True peace is being right with God, and God is truth and He is love. This peace and love don’t always look like sweetness and butterflies and rainbows. It is strength, boldness, courage, forgiveness, and doing what’s best for another.
It’s Not Confusing, It’s Just Hard
Stop letting yourself be torn just because you have been enabling bad behavior in the past. We often don’t realize it when it’s happening, especially because people that are enabled are often manipulative. They say things to get us to think that the right thing to do is to give them what they want, and if we don’t do it, we are wrong or even evil. Don’t listen to these lies. We have to know truth in order to see light in the places where we were blinded before. Setting boundaries is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. It is intimidating. It leaves a big unknown. You don’t know what might become of that person, that relationship, to you. If it is so scary and unknown, you should know that the best thing you can do is set boundaries. People truly in need will not make you feel threatened for not helping them. They respect boundaries, and they often don’t ask for much or anything at all even when they should. People in true need often don’t stay in need forever. They get back on their feet, and they join back in on the serving (and oftentimes may have never stopped). They give back because they have received. These people understand the gift God has given them through His Son, and out of their overflow, they want to extend that gift to others as well. Being in need is temporary, being irresponsible lasts much longer if consistent boundaries don’t cause a person to finally take responsibility for their own life, decisions, and many times even their circumstances.
In Need and Being Needed
We are all in need from time to time, and we should all be humble enough to ask or receive help in these times. In doing this, we are allowing others to use their God given callings and gifts to serve us. We must not make it permanent, though. We receive their gift as long as it is needed of offered (if that doesn’t extend past the need), and then we, in turn, try to do the same for another who is truly in need.
For those of us who have the constant longing to be needed, we are often the enablers. We are the ones helping keep the irresponsible in their irresponsibilities. It isn’t wrong to want to be needed, but it is wrong to force that onto someone. It creates a toxic bond between those who want everything done for them or to always get their way and the one who is willing to give it to them to selfishly fulfill their own needs. We must be aware of our longings, and we must be diligent in letting God use it in us for good instead of us using it in our flesh, fulfilling a dysfunctional relationship.
Wise Boundaries in The Midst of Threats
We have more control in these situations than we often realize. It’s control of ourselves and our actions. It is often making the hard choices, and sticking by them. There may be fits thrown. There will be harsh and painful words thrown at us. Some of us even risk being physically assaulted. If it has escalated to this point for you, don’t risk your safety to make a statement in boundaries. This looks different for you in the way of having to plan a safe and healthy escape. No matter how far we have gotten stuck in our enabling relationships, there is an exit, and there are ways to get out as safely as possible. If it has come to this for you, please reach out for help. Boundaries may look like “running away” to a safe house or even calling the police and filing charges. Don’t go at this alone. Seek wise counsel, and never move forward without prayer and seeking wisdom from God’s Word. He will make straight what we have made crooked.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
If you need help setting healthy boundaries, please comment below, shoot me an email, or reach out via social media.
Click here for a free download to find practical help discovering, identifying, documenting, escaping and healing from abuse.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233