Photo by Matija Barrett
I was watching the movie Courageous (good movie, by the way). At the end of the movie they show a man ‘discipling’ an obviously troubled younger man. This is good. I wish more people would take younger people under their wings and help them in life. The problem is that it is not easy.
In the movie the young man was intently listening and obviously hungry to hear what the older man had to say. This is a rare case, and typically only happens when the young man has grown up in a decent environment so he learned how to behave, just not about Christ. These are not the young people who most desperately need to be discipled.
The people who come to Christ and need to learn a new way of living come with a lot of baggage. And it is not just about having them clean up their lives. You are going to have to tackle the thought processes that have enabled them to believe that doing the things that have been messing up their lives is good. And this is a difficult thing to do.
Here is what you typically see:
1. Stinking Thinking:
– “I don’t see who it’s hurting.”
-“What about me and my rights?”
-“I don’t see why I should have to…”
-“If they don’t like me the way I am they can just…”
-“My boss hates me…”
-“If everyone would just leave me alone…”
With ‘stinking thinking’ it is never their fault. The blame is always shifted onto another person. Trying to explain how they could have done things differently is nearly impossible because their focus is on how unfair everything is to them and how they should not have to do whatever it is they do not want to do.
2. Emotional Instability:
This can be yelling, cursing or physically lashing out. They may shove you or otherwise try to physically intimidate you. They may stand up and/or get in your face. They have learned that intimidation causes people to back down and it gets them their way, at least in the short term. You will need to stand firm and set good boundaries.
Somehow you will have said or done something that hurt their feelings. They become over-emotional and want you to come over and fix it immediately. Again, you need to not let this shake you. Set good boundaries and do not go running to them, or you will be doing this again next week, and the next week, and the next… They may even threaten to kill themselves. Taking them seriously and going to the ER typically ends this, if it is a bluff, when they realize that you are willing to leave them in the hands of a mental health professional for a three day stay against their will. (This is standard treatment for someone who is suicidal. It is a good thing when the person truly needs help. It is a colossal waste of time for a person who is faking it to get attention.)
3. Life crisis:
-There will likely be late night phone calls about things that you need to ‘fix’ for them now. They may ‘remind’ you in not so pleasant terms that you promised to ‘help.’ Typically these situations can wait until morning to be figured out and do not require you forking over sums of money or allowing the person to move in with you and your family. (By the way, people who move in at 3 am are often difficult to evict, and do not behave. That is why they found themselves homeless at 3 am.)
You will likely be made to feel guilty about something. People who have lives that need changing are used to getting things by any means possible. If that means taking advantage of the fact that you are ‘nice’ and using your soft-heartedness for their advantage then that it was they will do. They may not even realize they are doing it. It is a pattern they learned growing up and it works.
Everyone wants people to think the best of them. People who truly need help typically did not grow up being honest. Check everything you can and question everything before you give advice and help. Typically they are not used to being called on their lies so they unravel if you just probe a bit, but some people are experts at the craft. If you are going to truly help you need to know what is truly happening in their lives. You may even want to establish up front that your ‘help’ stops as soon as the lies start, and that they may come back when they are ready to be honest.
The point is: Do not believe everything they say. Let me repeat: Do not believe everything they say, even if they seem to have proof. Why? Because their lives did not get to the point of them needing your help because they were wonderful people who did nothing wrong. Even if they seem to have everything lined up, ask yourself, ‘How could things get so messed up if this person was doing everything so well?’ Ninety-nine percent of the time you are missing an important piece of the picture. (I know a person who went to job interviews and just stared at the person doing the interview saying nothing the entire time. Still wondering why she didn’t get the job? You never think to ask, ‘Did you talk to the person at all when they interviewed you?’) Remember, you can ask their permission to talk to the people they interact with. Most employers or interviewers, when they know that you are trying to help will give you the information you need. These are generally nice people who would like to see the person you are working with succeed.
6. Broken Relationships:
In truly messed up situations broken relationships are the norm. While you need to help them ‘fix’ their relationships the other person in the relationship typically has just as many problems as the person you are working with, and you have little to no influence over them. Occasionally this is not true and their parents, spouse or children are doing well, but since the person you are working with came out of the same environment these people are in this is typically not the case. It will take the wisdom of Solomon to unravel some of these estrangements.
7. More problems than you can handle:
Typically people who have lives that need help fixing have more problems than people who have lives that work are typically equipped to handle. Have people you can bounce ideas off of, and who can help you problem-solve and/or emotionally support you. Also get to know what services there are in your community. Financial counseling, continuing education, work counseling, GED programs, short term assistance or housing are all things that may help the person as well.
The goal is to help people as much as possible. You cannot do this if you become burnt out. Remember, the good Samaritan left the man at the inn with someone he trusted while he finished his business. He did not move the person in with him and neglect all he needed to do in life. When you are helping someone you need to keep a good balance. If their problems begin to overwhelm you then you will end up breaking the relationship. This is not good for either of you, and because of your bad experience you will be less likely to help the next person who comes along. Keep yourself strong and you will be able to help this person, and many more. And, if this person succeeds, then they will be able to help others as well.
Also remember that not everyone ‘succeeds.’ God gave us all free will and sometimes, even if you do everything humanly possible, some people choose to fail. (Remember, there were only two people in the garden who had complete access to God, who is perfect, and they chose to do wrong.) Re-evaluate to see if there were things you could have done better, but don’t beat yourself up over it. At least you tried, and that is more than what most people would have done.
Discipleship is a dying, but necessary art. It is like fine weaving. It is difficult, and sometimes you have to back up and undo much of what is already there because there was a serious flaw in the fabric, but when you are finally done, the results are beautiful!