By Harold Sala

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.  Hebrews 12:10

There are times when you can help a person the most by not helping that person at all.  Sounds contradictory?  Let me illustrate.  There’s a word which is wafted about quite freely these days: codependency.  It’s one of those buzzwords among people who are trying to get their lives together and overcome some of the problems they grew up with.

“A good way to understand codependency,” said Rich Buhler in his book New Choices, New Boundaries, “is to picture the twenty-six-year-old in the high chair.  When we carry responsibility for another person, which that person ought to be carrying personally, we are involved in a smothering, binding, unhealthy relationship with that person, which prevents him or her from carrying the responsibility to deal with life.”

substance-abuse-Sean-Ganann

Photo by Sean Gannan

Let me illustrate.  I’m thinking of a letter from a young woman whose parents contribute a large amount of money each month to a son who is in college.  The son uses the money—not for his studies—but for drugs.  The daughter knows that and tried to tell the parents what he was doing, but they refused to believe her and kept on sending the money.  Denial only allowed the boy to sink deeper into his addiction.

Here’s another picture.  A husband has an alcohol problem.  In the morning he can’t get to work without a drink.  Neither can he get through the day without one. He certainly can’t sit through an evening without several.  He’s got a problem.  It’s an addiction to alcohol.  His wife, however, denies the seriousness of the situation by covering for him.  When he’s too ill to go to work, she calls in and tells his boss that he has a virus.  When he’s drunk and abuses the children, she says that he’s under stress from work.

Getting the picture?  Here’s one more.  A friend of mine is the pastor of a growing, thriving church.  Growing up wasn’t always easy for this son of a well-known father whose teaching and preaching has touched a generation for God.  When he was a teenager, he had “a heavy foot” which meant that he began collecting speeding tickets like some kids do downloads on the Internet.

Finally, the day came when his fast driving resulted in his arrest.  He expected that his dad would come immediately, post bail and get him out. One day passed and his father did not come.  Two days passed and he was still there. Finally, on the third day, he was released on his own recognizance.  His dad left him in the cooler so he would face the consequences of what he had done.  It was a very wise father who knew he could help his son the most by not helping him at all.

What happens when you rush to someone’s aid, or cover for that person, thinking that you are doing him or her a favor?

You prevent their learning the lesson of discipline which God intends to use to bring someone to a path of useful service and righteousness.  The Bible calls it discipline.

Picture a master craftsman with a hammer and chisel as he deftly uses the blows of the hammer on the chisel to carve out a beautiful piece of art.  Our lessening the impact of the blow, thinking we are helping, only diverts the blow of life’s hammer which God is using to accomplish his purpose.

There is a time and a place for help.  We must learn to bear each other’s burdens, to pray together, to cry together, and to love each other; but there is also a time when we can help the most by not helping at all.  It’s a tough decision but one which is absolutely necessary to really help someone.

Resource reading: Psalm 106:1-15.