We have entered the season of Lent, a period of 40 days before Easter when Christians traditionally lament over their sins and then, in response, choose something to give up such as chocolate or Facebook or alcohol. The idea is to daily turn away from what distracts us or derails us and turn back to God. Instead of giving up something for Lent, this year I encourage you to let go and let God.
LETTING GO OF ENABLING
Co-dependency. Enabling. I had no idea what those words meant. But I lived them out with all my passion for decades. After my life came to a screeching debacle, and I learned what those words meant, I wanted to die. Literally and metaphorically. The only way to heal was to let go of enabling behaviors and allow God to fill the hole in my heart that caused them.
Co-dependency is the label for an unhealthy relationship between people who rely on each other for their emotional survival. Co-dependence is based on “fixing” and controlling another person. It has a very different look and feel than interdependence, a relationship between emotionally healthy people that is mutually beneficial.
Enabling means helping someone so much that the person can comfortably remain mired in the problems that required him or her to need help in the first place. Enabling shelters others from experiencing the consequences of their actions and thereby from learning why and how they need to change. For example, a kind friend or relative who provides a home for substance abuser and/or gives her money to buy her drugs because she doesn’t want to see her suffer is an enabler. An enabling parent bails his child out of all of his problems and never provides consistent discipline because he “loves him so much” and wants him to be happy.
Christians are prime candidates for enabling behavior and co-dependent personalities because we are focused on service and mercy and helping others. We are expected to be helpers! Our motivation defines if our helping is appropriate or not. Healthy Christians help and serve because they feel called to meet the needs of others in Christ’s name. Co-dependents help because we have a hole in our heart and a desperate need for others to love and value us. Co-dependents help and serve others to meet their own needs.
Unfortunately, the helpful actions of committed Christians and needy co-dependents (who may also be committed Christians) often look the same. Sometimes it is only the person who is being helped who can tell the difference. Healthy people who are being “helped” by an enabler feel smothered and controlled. They are eager to break away and breathe on their own. But unhealthy people are happy to be drawn in to another person’s life, taken care of, and “saved.” They want to be clung to as much as the enabler wants to cling. Neither person can gain the love and respect which define a healthy relationship and actually make them fulfilled and cared for.
My helping was an addiction. I needed it to feel worthy and valued. I felt the pangs of withdrawal when the relationship ended. Eventually I admitted that I was powerless to change this behavior and that my life was unmanageable. I let go and let God. Along the way I discovered that only God could fill the hole in my heart. And when God did just that, I could become the person I wanted to be by putting on the character of Jesus. I could help without hurting. I could have rich and loving relationships without controlling or fixing. If you recognize yourself in this story, let go and let God.
The classic books on codependency are Melodie Beatties’ Codependent No More and Beyond Codependence. I highly recommend them.