It’s one of those things that no one wants to do or have done to us, but it’s a tricky tightrope on which to walk. If you care too much for people you can be accused of enabling them with your (over-?) assistance and care. Yet, if you fear enabling, you can be perceived as not caring at all.
Whether job performance, relationships, school or even parenting, this is a real conundrum. How far is too far and how far isn’t far enough?
- Do I help my boy tie his shoe?
- Do I reach out to this student so that she might improve or continue in her studies?
- Do I call him back after the date or will I sound too desperate?
- Do I let go of this employee or try once again to develop him professionally?
Part of me thinks of Jesus’ words to “let the dead bury the dead.” It’s a complex passage, but it clearly talks about erring on the side of letting people pursue the right choice on their own:
Luke 9:57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Knowing when to “shake the mat” and move on is so tough. Jesus made it sound so easy when he sent out the disciples:
7And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.8He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
Mark 6:7-13 ESV (bold and italics mine)
How long did they wait until they were received or listened to? Were they like Shaggy and Scooby not wanting to make the effort at all? Were they like the desperate salesperson knocking because they “know you’re in there”?
While these texts are very discipleship and evangelism related, I think all caring is on the whole. Isn’t ultimate caring bringing people to Jesus? The line gets crossed when we become like slimy salespeople in our discipleship or evangelistic efforts. The enabling becomes our own when our worth and identity is wrapped up in what we can do for others. We become enabled by those whom we say we are trying to care and share.
I’ve often thought the scene from Hitch describes the balance of 90-10 that exists between caring and enabling.