How to Help a Loved One Wrestle
Love is a process of meeting needs.
We have 11 grandchildren. I don’t need to say which one’s struggle tugged at my heart a few days ago, but I will say we have plenty of heart tugs as we either love from a distance or love them without any masks.
We’ve decided that “love them without any masks” is our hearts’ desire as grandparents and parents of adult children; sometimes they let us and sometimes we just get to love from a distance. “I’ll do it myself,” doesn’t stop after the toddler stage.
Sometimes even “grown” children decide “I’ll do it myself!” instead of risking to ask for help- don’t we?! (My dad is grinning right now!)
Self-effort and independence can only get any of us as far as our own strength; after that – we all need each other. The sad thing is, the minute we feel a problem bigger than we can handle – or scarier than we want to share – shame and fear can quickly tempt us to hide instead of find a safe source of help.
Hiding doesn’t help.
That’s what tugged at me a few days ago. I watched as this precious one came home from school and just wanted to go to his room. Something was bothering him, but he didn’t want to share it.
He was uneasy and in his young mind, it made the most sense to take “the thing” (the “issue”) to a hiding place. Maybe he’d deal with it and maybe he’d find more shame waiting for him, but he wasn’t willing to risk sharing “the thing,” worried perhaps about the consequences of even admitting the “issue.”
He could’ve learned this strategy from me – or any other grown up. Most of you reading this blog could’ve taught this little boy to bury the thing, pretend it didn’t happen, tell himself “it doesn’t matter,” or use a smoke screen or convenient pain reliever to distract attention away from the real “beast” at hand.
Because he has a trusting relationship with his mom, she was able to convince him it was a good idea to stay downstairs. After a while, she offered some real words of love to begin to dissolve any shame trying to weasel into the situation and fuel his fears. It wasn’t long before we could all begin to sense that our little man was breathing easier and “returning to joy” as we call it.
We define joy as “it’s good to be me here with you.”
Returning to joy from every unpleasant emotion is the food of real maturity; it’s a wound-healer, too.
When it is “good to be me here with you,” we can share struggles, mistakes, fears, disappointments, and hurts. Just dragging these “beasts” out into the light begins to rob them of their power over us – and the healing and the real learning can begin.
How to help a loved one wrestle
At the risk of offering a formula, I offer these five questions when you and a loved one (big or little) are wrestling with a “beast”:
WHO AM I? The truthful answer to this question requires trusting who God says I am. On my worst day, as a believer, I am Christ-in-me. I’m a saint who sometimes sins; I’m a saint who’s sometimes hurt because another has sinned against me. I live in a fallen world. But I’m not a sinner striving to become a saint. My mistakes are because of my immaturity, my ignorance and weakness. My mistakes may be because I’ve forgotten my true identity. My mistakes are not because I’m a loser or a misfit, or because God is waiting for me to get my act together before I get His attention. My mistakes may be because I don’t trust God and others and remember it’s always ok to ask for help.
WHO ARE YOU? The truthful answer to this question requires trusting who God says you are, too. Maybe you’re the one who hurt me. On your worst day as a believer, you’re Christ in you, too. You’re a saint who sometimes sins because of your ignorance, your weakness, or maybe because you’ve forgotten your true identity. You’re not a sinner striving to become a saint either, and you’re not my enemy. If others are involved in this “beast” story, we have to agree about who God says they are, too. Recognizing true identities can protect us from blaming and shaming – which never helps in the fight against “beasts.”
WHERE IS THE “BEAST?” It’s not important yet to know WHAT the “beast” is; it may be a mistake, a lie, something broken, something that scares me, or some other kind of problem. What is important before we name the “beast” is that it is in front of us, not between us. Beasts are more carefully recognized and dealt with when they are in the light, and we have our arms around each other, looking at it together. “Beasts” that are between us can quickly grow into the kind of animals that like to steal our joy and maybe even eat us or our relationship.
WHAT’S THE GOAL? After the cross and resurrection of Jesus, our goal each day no longer has to be “get everything perfect all the time.” We don’t have to run and hide or blame and shame when we smell a beast – or when we meet one eye to eye. Jesus gave us the new covenant goal: “Love one another.” The reason He gave us this goal is because love is a beast-slayer. Trueface.org says “Love is the process of meeting needs.” Love helps clear up a mistake, love erases a lie, love lends strength in a struggle, love casts out fear, and love heals the wounds that beasts can often leave behind. The goal, on this gospel side of the timeline, is trusting relationships that give and receive love. Grace is a supernatural antibiotic. The only time grace doesn’t work is when we don’t trust it.
WHO IS GOD? The truthful answer to this question requires trusting who God says He is. He is the best source of help. He is the one who gave us the life of His Son while we were sinners. We were beasts, ourselves. He knew we needed grace. Grace is both the beast-slayer and the life-giver to newborn saints. God’s going to take us to heaven one day where there are no more beasts. Trusting His grace is all we need to get there – and it’s all we need in this fallen world to grow up as saints. Until He comes to get us, our purpose in this life is to be “beast-slayers” and saint feeders. All we need is grace.
It is finished!
If anything besides grace really worked, the cross of Christ was a waste. The body and blood of Jesus is the ultimate beast-slayer, and the real saint food. “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
It’s good to be me here with you. “_________ (your name here), where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) “There is no fear in love.” (I John 4:18) “Abide in me…apart from me, you can do nothing. Abide in me and you will bear much fruit.” (John 15) “For the joy set before us…”
There is great hope.