Have you ever prayed and prayed for someone you deeply care for in need of a serious life-style change with no apparent results? Your heart breaks and your faith falters as prayers seemingly go unanswered and you helplessly watch them sink deeper into the darkness of destructive behavior.
There is not a whole lot harder to watch and endure. I know, because I have walked that rutted road, filled with emotional and spiritual land mines, and can sincerely empathize with a friend currently enduring the pain of a similar journey. When I shared the situation with some trusted friends they prayed with me and then told me a remarkable story of attitude adjustment that bears repeating.
They knew a woman in Georgia who made a substantial investment in a prize-winning stallion. Though the animal was a magnificent beast, it proved to be mean-spirited and untamable. Neither affection nor discipline had any effect on the horse. At wits end and unable to break him of his destructive and dangerous behaviors, the owner faced the heartbreaking inevitability of having to sell him. Then an unusual event occurred. A fierce storm in the area created a tornado that swooped down from the sky, picked up the horse and carried it away. Three days later the horse was discovered several miles from the farm standing entangled in a briar patch and sporting only minor scratches and bruises. The story of his survival made local headlines but, what was even more amazing was the effect the ordeal brought about in the animal. The horse, once the terror of fields and barn, had undergone a major attitude adjustment! He now was utterly approachable and, to everyone’s further astonishment, had developed a disposition as sweet and gentle as any stallion known to man.
I have known some people like that stallion in my life. They are full of potential with endless possibilities and are surrounded by friends and family who support and encourage them. Yet they rise up in rebellion or choose to engage in destructive behaviors that continually disappoint and hurt everyone around them. They leave in their path broken hearts, shattered dreams, wasted resources and exhausted parents, teachers, co-workers, pastors, friends, family members, mates and children. Everyone tries everything and nothing works.
I have known some people like that stallion’s owner too. These are brave souls who come to realize that they cannot rescue the rebels or change the behaviors of abusers. They are the people who model Christ at the pool of Bethesda when Jesus asked the man who had been sick for thirty-eight years, “do you want to be healed?” Instead of responding with a resounding “Yes!” the man said, “I can’t,” and then followed up with a list of all the reasons why he couldn’t. In this case Jesus did not lay hands on him, cast out a demon, or tell him his faith had healed him. Jesus cut right through all his complaining and excuse-making to the core of the matter and commanded him to take action. “Stand up, roll up your sleeping mat and go on home!” John 5:5-8 The sick man did as he was told and the story ends happily with his being completely healed.
Not all stories end that way. Sometimes the “sick” person does not want to be healed. They may say differently but they never really change because, in reality, they like their lives just the way they are. They will not stand up and roll up their own mat. When that happens to me, all that is left is to draw a line in the sand, plug my ears to their manipulating excuses and cries for enabling help and, in love and continual prayer for them, release them to suffer the consequences of their own behavior. Truly this is love that “hurts me more than hurts you.”
But I have seen this kind of “tough love” work and, praise be to God, witnessed people bounce back from destructive behaviors. When I stop rescuing, fixing, and making excuses, things begin to change. The tough love process is hard to watch and is not without personal pain. Sometimes a great deal of personal pain, because sometimes it takes a tornado…