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 or reckless choices?
There are some important insights that we can learn from an incident in Joshua 9 followed by three questions that challenge you to determine whether you need to re-evaluate your fix-it or rescuing tendencies in someone else’s life.
In Joshua 9, a group of worn-out foreign travelers arrive and request a meeting with the Israelite leaders. The Israelites’ leader, Joshua, inspects the delegation; he sees the patched sandals, cracked wineskins, and the moldy bread they are carrying. When Joshua questions the group, they tell him that they’ve been traveling a long time to make a treaty with the Israelites (Joshua 9:9-13). The answer to this request should have been denied, but it wasn’t.
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).
Joshua and the Israelites listened to the delegation’s story and completed their inspection: “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 and it wasn’t long until the Israelites discovered that the Gibeonites made up their story.
Rather than seek God for help, the Gibeonites sought out the Israelites with a sad, but untrue story.
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 someone who should be responsible for their own life comes to us with news of another job loss, money troubles, and blaming others. Their precarious situation can quickly stress us out. Yet, rescuing them isn’t our job.
We can be encouraging without enabling, especially when that person has a track record of poor decisions. It is our job to pray and to trust God enough to get out of His way in their lives.
Here are three questions that you can consider when you’re approached to help someone who should be responsible for themselves:
- Do I need to let my loved one experience the natural consequences of their behavior?
- Will my help undermine their need for God?
- Is my assistance aiding them toward more self-responsibility or less?
It’s hard to step back and watch someone experience the consequences of their bad behavior. But what if our help hurts them? Sometimes, allowing our loved one to experience their need for God is exactly where God wants them to be. Have you considered that you might be the reason that your prayers for their rescue haven’t been answered?
Ultimately, we want our loved ones to find the same hope that we have found in Jesus alone. 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! 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. Give me wisdom to know what to do.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Now It’s Your Turn
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 stop doing for them?
More from the Girlfriends
Have you ever tried to fight worry with faith and felt you were losing the battle? Check out Barb’s Bible study, Joshua: Winning the Worry Battle. In this six-week study on the book of Joshua, you’ll learn how to fight in faith and scripture-based new tools to overcome your daily struggles and the bigger battles of fear that we all face! (Leaders’ guide and teaching DVD available separately.)
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