The simple truth is that caring takes energy, focus, an emotional toll. And that’s OK. We’re called to care for one another. That’s part of life. But…(this is a big but, and I cannot lie!), life was meant to be lived multi-directionally. Follow me here. Let’s think this thing through, OK?
Relationships are give and take. We genuinely care for one another. Christ’s community, his church, the Family of Jesus doing life together…we celebrate one another’s victories. We mourn with one another. We help shoulder the burdens. And congratulate when their are achievements. Relationships are lived out multi-directionally. We give and receive. That’s a relationship. And I can, in the same day, mourn with someone who just lost a family member. Or whose spouse just walked and is now ghosting him or her. And I can feel joy for someone who just got engaged. Or whose struggling child actually passed those classes at school. And I can feel both emotions authentically.
But…which of the two will drain me? Obviously, the caring and concern for someone who is hurting, struggling, dealing with the hard stuff of life. (Which, by the way, Jesus never promised to take away from us if we just believe hard enough and sow some seed of faith to the guy on the TV.) It is a withdrawal from the reserve of emotions on the part of the person who is showing caring and concern. The person who’s praying (often these things come as “prayer requests”). And we do it because we’re in relationship. We’re called to care. Again- this is good and right. And the unspoken agreement within community is that we will have times we reach out and care and love and help. And we will, at some point, need that same care and love. In the in-between times, that person who needed me will genuinely be interested in my life as well. It will be a give and take relationship in the normal times. And…that’s the rub.
Because some folks- is this a safe place to share this? Some folks are simply self-focused. They need the attention. Crave it, want it. Even demand it. And they’re great when you show that love. When you care about everything going on with them. They’ll act engaged and tell you how much you mean to them. Because it keeps you engaged in their life. But if you have a need? If you can’t focus on them at this moment because you’re dealing with your own problems? Or helping someone else? Yeah…it can get ugly fast. Have you seen this before?
So what if I realize I’m that person? I constantly need the attention, the concern, the care? I try to fill the emptiness in my life with it?
First, realize that I’m using people rather than loving people. This is selfish and anti-biblical. I need to have a “come to Jesus moment” and be honest with myself.
Second, ask Jesus to make his love for me primary. So that I stop seeking in people what they were never designed to provide: 24/7 attention and dedicating themselves to meeting all my needs. That’s a heavier weight than any human being can carry. And…their weren’t meant to carry that weight. That’s why they fail me.
Third, examine closely my expectations of others. People often have expectations that are unspoken. Yet they’re very upset, even feel betrayed, when people don’t measure up. This isn’t love. Love doesn’t look at what it can get from others. It looks to give. I need to kill, murk, toe-tag and bag, my expectations. The expectations I have should be on me: that I’ll follow Jesus and serve as he gives me opportunity. And I can expect one other thing: people will fail me. That’s why my ultimate hope is always in God.
What if I’m dealing with that person who constantly needs my attention, care, concern? Who will make stuff up just to get it: “Would you please pray? My uncle’s friend’s step-father has a new wife who has been coughing a lot lately and they’re really worried!” No. No, I probably won’t pray much. I know…not very spiritual of me. But the degree of distance and the degree of severity have a lot to do with my ability to be concerned. (Again I ask…is this a safe place to share this?)
First, pay no attention to the praises of people. Because if you become addicted to it, you’ll be manipulated into continuing to give your emotional energy even when you have none left to give.
Second, remember that love serves according to needs, not wants. There are times to be there. But there are also times to say, “No, I can’t right now. I’m focusing on family. I’m spending time with my wife. I’m taking some time to be alone and recharge.” This is OK. Good, even.
Third, continually direct to Jesus and his desire to use that person in the lives of others. Because their greatest need isn’t for more attention. More and more attention will simply flow into a black hole that will never be satisfied. Instead, they need to learn that being involved in the lives of others will be their greatest healing and serve the greater purpose of glorifying God. Which gives ultimate satisfaction, peace and joy.
Fourth, don’t reward manipulation, drama, and “me, me, me.” Because what is rewarded is repeated. Remove the emotional currency from the transaction.
Fifth, pray for that person. Ask Jesus to work in their hearts and mend what is broken. Because if we follow Christ, we genuinely care and want what’s best for him or her.