It was a hot, sultry day in July when the realization hit me. At first, I tried to deny it. The truth was painful. But I couldn’t escape its certainty.
My family member was better off in my absence than he was in my presence. And as much as I wanted to fix the situation, I couldn’t.
Consequences accumulated because of poor choices. Everyone close to the matter seemed to hold their breath, waiting, and then waiting some more. And despite a stark refusal to face reality, it lurked. Like a dark shadow hanging over every interaction, it refused to be ignored.
When people we love self destruct, we usually take one of three approaches:
1. We ignore the facts altogether, perhaps hoping the situation will resolve itself.
This reaction often makes the problem escalate, unless the person owns his or her decisions and chooses to make a life change.
2. We enable the person, becoming codependent.
This behavior can take many forms, but in essence we are helping the person not face the consequences of his or her choices.
3. We try to fix it.
This approach usually involves a lot of arguing and trying to make the other person see our way.
Do you see a problem here? After years of going through a cycle of hope and hurt, I can tell you firsthand- none of these approaches is effective. I have used each and every one over the past twenty years, and am learning the slow, difficult art of surrender.
But here’s the problem. There’s a lie most of us face each time we attempt to open our hands. We think surrender isn’t doing anything. When we picture surrender, we see someone lying down on the ground, refusing to move. I can tell you, this isn’t a valid picture at all.
Surrender is not passive, but a proactive measure of strength.
Why? Because one of the most powerful stances we can take against the dark forces that threaten to overtake our loved ones is on our knees.
Not with our words of argument or reason. Not with our attempts to shield them from the reality.
Take a look at the life of David. Though he is described in scripture as being “a man after God’s own heart,” he also experienced a low point in his life where he committed adultery and murder. God sent Nathan to confront David, but at first David acted completely clueless.
However, Nathan didn’t waste any time letting his friend walk in blindness.
“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’”
David’s eyes finally opened to the severity of his sin. But while honest repentance brought forgiveness from God, David was not exempt from consequences. His actions resulted in the death of his child. (2 Samuel 12:14)
Nathan’s confrontation with David is a powerful reminder that loving someone also means telling the truth, even when it hurts. Even when you would rather they face a different outcome or skip the dark valley.
As someone who loathes conflict, I’m far from perfect in this area. But God is teaching me. And with time, I’m seeing there are better approaches to use with those who self-destruct.
1. Tell the truth.
This doesn’t mean tell them your opinion or your fix for whatever it is they’re facing. It does mean relying on the Word, following the Spirit’s leading, and stating fact.
2. Set boundaries.
If your loved one refuses to get help or face the consequences of his or her choices, your presence may not be helpful anymore. If there is toxic behavior that is detrimental to you or your children, boundaries are needed.
Then pray some more. Pray truth from scripture over them. Pray it out loud. Identify the areas where your loved one believes lies and combat them with the Word.
Friend, whatever you do, don’t give up. Find supportive friends who will go to battle with you in prayer and hold your arms up when you’re feeling weak. We were never intended to walk through these struggles alone.
We serve a Father who still performs miracles, each and every day. He breaks chains of darkness and sets captives free.
Sometimes we just need time and space to see where the true battle lies. And most of all, we need space to see him work in ways only he can.