I felt burdened to write this article because it is a subject that effects so many of us and is in some ways crippling our Christian witness.
I heard on television, of all places, a statement I have been trying to vocalize for a long time. The person, referring to helping others, said 'you can not help someone more than they are willing to help themselves.' Your first reaction to this statement is "Duh.that's a no brainer", but in reality, we never quite get it. We spend a lot of time trying to get others to conform to our idea of success for their lives.
Just think how many times you have suggested to one of your children how they should do something, only to be hurt, frustrated and angry when they don't follow our sage advice and it turns out bad for them. The fact is that unless they are willing to help themselves enough to follow sound wisdom, it does not matter how sound the wisdom is.
This same truth resounds in every attempt we make to help others. You may have a co-worker that complains everyday how their life is the pits, they don't know where to turn or what to do. You endlessly extol the virtue of a Christian life and how attending church on Sunday makes your week better. Unless that person is willing to make the change in their life, they would rather complain than accept your help.
Think of hurricane evacuees. You can give them shelter, food, medical care and all the compassion in the world, but you can not help them past the point to which they are willing to help themselves. You can not go get a job for them or go take control of their property and start repairs. They must be willing to help themselves before anyone can add on to that.
This problem is a point of frustration for many people trying to help others. Whether at your work place or on a mission trip to the ends of the earth, you can only provide the means and motivation for someone to advance to the next level. If they do not want to advance, there is nothing you can do to 'make' them. Many of us see a homeless person under the freeway and immediately assume that this person wants a good home, good job, good car, happy family and friends, but the truth is some people have gotten to a point that that is the last thing they are wanting. They want to be where they are because they are running from a bigger problem and it gives them an escape not to face some of the harder decisions in life. We can not help someone more than they are willing to help themselves. Sometimes the most help is just to talk to them and help them reason out where they are and why they might want to change that. Their motivation is what needs a boost, and we exert a lot of frustration trying to get their physical needs up to 'our standards' when their hearts are not in it.
Many great acts of kindness are frustrated by misunderstanding. We give, expecting that the recipients will react the way 'we would'. Well, what if we were the rich younger ruler who came to Christ asking for the key to eternal life. Christ said to us "sell all you have and give to the poor", we would have had an instant garage sale or would we? We are asked everyday by God to do things we don't necessarily want to do, how do we react?
When God puts it on your heart to give to a cause, is your heart changed by the outcome of the gift? If you give new toys to a needed family at Christmas and drive by a week later and see them all left out in the rain, do you regret the gift?
We are commanded to give of our selves and our hearts, we are never told to judge the outcome. If you find yourself disappointed by the outcome of your actions, remember that you may be helping beyond someone's desire to help themselves. Do not get discouraged, just think of it as going the extra mile.
Tazz Dickey, Sr. - Sunday school teacher and speaker for 30 years. Writings include a study on love from the Old Testament. Submissions: San Jacinto Baptist Assoc., church histories, local newspapers. Playwrite/production for youth including BSU. Divorce recovery support articles.