Christian Friends: Good Choices?
A couple of years ago I got a phone call from a distraught woman with nowhere to turn. She pulled my name and number out of a speaker’s brochure explaining that she picked me “because I looked friendly.” Thus began a year-long, weekly “phone relationship” that began sapping all of my emotional and spiritual energy. Every time I offered suggestions to help her with her problems, she fired back with an excuse for why they wouldn’t work. It quickly became apparent that she really didn’t want help; she just wanted to complain to someone.
Her critical spirit of others and of every church she had attended really began to wear on me to the point where I didn’t want to answer the phone for fear it was her. I wanted to be available to God to help her, but there was little more I could do for her since she wasn’t interested in getting healthy. Having exhausted all I could do for her, I made the difficult decision to gently and lovingly end the relationship.
While ministering to the needy is certainly part of our job description as Christ’s followers, we need to be careful that these liaisons don’t become unhealthy, draining us of all our emotional energy and negatively affecting our health. The inability to separate ourselves from other peoples’ problems can have the potential of making us sick, emotionally and physically. During my attempts to help this woman, I found my stress level growing every time the phone rang, anticipating another draining session with no progress.
Part of taking care of ourselves in the midst of dealing with difficult people is learning how to manage our relationships well. Because those of us who serve in ministry can easily become the targets of other people’s unhealthy behavior, I have found it helpful to make sure that I surround myself with a healthy inner circle of relationships that energize me. If you look at Jesus’ ministry, you will see that He did the same. He had His inner circle - Peter, James and John. In the midst of the huge needs around Him, He often retreated with this inner circle of friends. While we aren’t told specifically what their conversations consisted of, I would imagine they provided a lot of encouragement and support for each other.
Having been battered over the years as I’ve ministered to numerous difficult people, I have very intentionally surrounded myself with three or four healthy women whose input in my life helps to keep me healthy emotionally, physically and spiritually. Here are some of the ways my inner circle has done that:
They are women who speak life to my soul when we get together. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” These women feed my spirit by bringing healing just through the wise, comforting, and truthful words they speak. They are women whose words always point me to God and His solutions for my life.
Face it, ministry can be taxing at times, and we all have moments - especially when we’ve been exhausting ourselves on the behalf of others - where we need a break. The Creator, in His incredible wisdom, gave us laughter to be able to switch gears and punctuate the monotonous in life with joy. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” My inner circle of friends has provided me with a place where I can learn to see the humorous side of everyday life and problems. They’ve helped me to not take others or myself too seriously, and ultimately helped me to keep a positive attitude by exercising my faith in a God who will take care of all that concerns me. As I’ve been able to find the humor in things, it has proven good medicine for my heart!
These women have helped me to set healthy limits and boundaries when it comes to ministering to others. This can be difficult for many of us, as we’ve been programmed to think that we need to give ourselves away at any cost. One ministry wife summed it up well: “Often in ministry we’re so consumed with the mechanics of the ministry and so tuned into others’ needs that we strongly neglect our own needs, not even realizing that we have them.”
Authors Henry Cloud and John Townsend said in one of their books on boundaries, that “appropriate boundaries actually increase our ability to care for others.” For me, this has meant limiting the number of needy people I can minister to at one time¾so I can be more effective overall. My inner circle keeps me accountable.
When you take a close look at Jesus’ ministry with the needy, you will discover that He did not heal all of the sick, He did not meet everyone’s needs, He did not raise all of the dead, and He did not feed all of the hungry. With many lives still needing to be touched, He could rest knowing He had completed all the work the Father had required of Him (John 17:4). It was a relief for me to realize that I did all I could do for this woman as well.
In fact, if we’re not careful, we can actually get in the way of what God wants to accomplish in another’s life by trying to do it all for them. We cannot be God to these people, only God can be that. To attempt it is to end up unhealthy in the process. We can’t fix everybody, and it’s unrealistic to assume we can. I suspect, in some cases, ministering often goes on far longer than it should, only prolonging unhealthy behavior.
We need to be very sensitive to what God wants to do in the lives of those we are ministering to and get out of the way when we should. Ecclesiates 3:1-8 bears this out: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: ...a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Setting limits simply protects us from becoming overwhelmed by things that will drain our effectiveness.
God has made provisions for us by giving us friends (Eccl. 4:9-12). He continually uses my inner circle to keep me healthy in every aspect of my life. Do you have an inner circle of women who will contribute to your overall health?
Have you been able to set some limits when it comes to ministering to the difficult people in your life? We are the only ones who can manage and take care of the relationships in our lives. Make a decision today to develop an inner circle of healthy relationships -- it will be one of the healthiest decisions you can make!