If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
(James 1:5, NIV)
Friend to Friend
One Sunday afternoon, my friend, whom I’ll call Leah, called in tears over her adult children. Leah spent large sums of money, time, and tears trying to help her kids, but their reckless life choices kept her up at night stressed out and scared for their future.
Leah struggled with what I call “secondhand worry.” This happens when we suffer the effects of worry because we’re trying to carry the load that someone should be responsible and accountable for managing themselves.
If you can relate to Leah, you know that this is a difficult place to be. When we wear someone else’s worry, it can wear us out! So, how do we get out of God’s way? Do we trust that God is aware and active in the lives of loved ones who make irresponsible choices?
There are some important insights that we can learn from an incident in Joshua 9 followed by two challenging questions to determine whether or not you’re getting in God’s way in someone else’s life.
In Joshua 9, a group of worn out travelers arrive and request a meeting with the Israelite leaders. As the Israelites’ leader, Joshua inspects the delegation; he sees the patched sandals, cracked wineskins and moldy bread they are carrying. When Joshua questions the group, they tell him that they’ve been traveling a long time to make treaty with the Israelites (Joshua 9:9-13).
The answer to this request should have been denied. Years before, God instructed the Israelites not to make any treaties with foreigners because He knew that outside influences would woo the Israelites away from following God (Exodus 34:11-12).”
However, after Joshua and Israelites listened to the delegation’s story and completed their inspection, this is what happened next: “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live….” Joshua ignored God’s instructions (Joshua 9:14-15, NIV).
Soon the Israelites discovered that the Gibeonites made up their story out of fear. Rather than seek God, the Gibeonites sought out the Israelites to fix the situation for them. However, just because the Gibeonites tried to place their fate in the hands of the Israelites doesn’t mean that Joshua and the leaders had to accept responsibility for it. And the same is true for us.
It’s hard when irresponsible adults come to us with heart-breaking stories that arise of their bad decisions. Their precarious situation can quickly stress us out. Yet, bailing irresponsible adults out of their bad decisions isn’t our job. It’s our job to pray and to trust God enough to get out of His way.
Here are two questions that a counselor challenged me with when I struggled with secondhand worry:
- Do I need to let my loved one experience the natural consequences of their behavior?
- Will my help undermine their need for God?
It’s so hard to step back and watch someone experience the consequences of their bad behavior. But what if our help actually hurts them? If we’re not sure, that’s when wise, trusted voices can be helpful in figuring that out. Ultimately, we must trust that God is working in his or her life. Have you considered that you might be the reason that your prayers for their rescue haven’t been answered?
Ultimately, we want our friends and loved ones to find the same hope that we have found in Jesus alone. Remember, love is sacrificial, not suicidal. You can show love and concern without letting someone else’s worries wear you out.
Dear God, when I wear someone else’s worry, it wears me out! You are big enough for all of us, and I believe that Your promises apply to me and everyone I love and care about. Today I commit to avoid secondhand worry by keeping boundaries on my concern and trusting You through the uncertainty.
In Jesus’ Name,
Now It’s Your Turn
Today’s topic is a tender issue for many parents and spouses of struggling loved ones. Is there someone in your life that you’re trying to help, but it’s stressing you out? What do you sense or feel that God is leading you to do? List one or two trusted voices that you can talk with today.
More from the Girlfriends
Barb Roose is a speaker and author who is passionate about equipping women to win at life with Christ-empowered strength and dignity. Since 2005, Barb has been speaking to audiences in the US and abroad. She’s a Bible teacher who loves following God more than anything else in life. Barb is a real woman who has experienced depression and anxiety, parenting challenges, and family addiction trauma. Rather than teaching audiences to follow God to get what they want, Barb inspires audiences to discover that God is all they need!
She is the author of multiple books and Bible studies, including Joshua: Winning the Worry Battle.