Monday, December 21, 2009

A Note to a Young Christian on Responsibility in Relationships

Now, I want to explain something to you. My goal is to help you become a good son/brother/friend without slipping into patterns of thought and response that do not help you or those you love. For the sake of your own psychological heath, it is probably a good idea not to be too concerned about how you feel about your mother (brother or friend) and what she does or doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say. She will not change (at least not due to your influence). Let me explain.

God is already at work with your Mum as much as your Mum will allow it. It is easy for children, friends or siblings, especially those with an over developed rescue reflex, to feel responsible—even when they tell themselves that they are not—to help make mother, friend, brother a better, or at least a less damaged, person. This is a trap. Motivated by feelings of guilt or responsibility, one ends up merely reinforcing their negative behavior and responses. Why? Because, at the heart of the problem, is your problem: pride. “Where’s the pride?” you may ask.

When we see the terrible suffering of those we love (and the suffering they inflict on others), it is hard for us to believe that God really cares, really is involved, really is doing all that is possible to help that person. It is hard for everyone to believe this, not just you. The martyrs are saints for the very reason that they trusted God when all outward circumstances indicated that God didn’t care. In the case of family/friendship dynamics, we also sometimes wonder where God is; and in our anxiety it is easy to adopt a role, to cast ourselves as a necessary person (maybe even the necessary person) in the salvation of another. This is where pride comes in.

Of course we are to pity our loved ones and be kind and generous (time, money, emotional support), but there is an important line in our hearts that we must not cross, or else the very Grace that is inherent in our loving actions is not only evaporated, but the “loving action” itself becomes merely an act in an ongoing play directed by past habit, our own hidden insecurities, and probably even a demon or two. And what is this line? It is the line of thinking that we and our actions will somehow change or influence this person. Such thinking comes from pride and leads only to frustration and unhealthy forms of co-dependency. God, and God only, can influence change in others, only God knows how to do it (that is, what will work best for this person), and (here’s the tough one) God is already doing and has already done all that is possible to influence this person toward salvation. If God uses us at all, it will be without our knowing it. Our acts of love and kindness are offered out of, well, love and kindness, not out of a hidden desire to change someone. Mother, friend or brother are who they are. You cannot change them. If you feel pity, frustration, responsibility, fear, hope, sadness, in your relationship with them, don’t take it too seriously. It doesn’t mean anything. When we feel strongly (whatever that feeling is) about someone, we offer that feeling to God—the only One who can do anything about it.

“Yes,” you may say, “but don’t we work together with God?” Yes we do, but what is our “work”? Our work is to become like the Mother of God, to offer ourselves, one another and our whole lives to Christ our God in prayer; and then to love, to be joyful, to be kind, to be generous, to be faithful, to be patient, to be good, and above all, to be at peace. This is our work. You might say, “That sounds artificial—if I really care about someone, I will try my best to really help him/her.” And I respond: “Watch out for pride!” Who can “really” help your mother/friend/brother? Who loves them much, much more than you ever can? Who really has the knowledge and ability to provide them with the help that they really need, not just what they seem to need? You know the answer.

In truth, once we have completely entrusted our loved ones to God in prayer, or are continually doing so, our actions may not change much, the difference will be in our hearts. In fact, letting go of a false sense of responsibility and guilt, you will be more full of Grace, less driven by impulse, and in the end may actually do or say something that God uses to turn around someone you love—but you won’t realize it, at least not until long afterward. At the time, you will just be offering them to God in your heart and being kind and patient and peaceful: just being a Christian.

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