Someone I love calls me and as soon as I answer, I can hear the tears in her voice. She’s having a tough time. My first instinct is to try to rescue her. I care about her, after all. Doesn’t that mean I should make the pain stop? Try to fix the problem? Put on my superhero cape and save the day?
For years I thought that was true. But I’m coming to understand there is a better way. So instead I pause and take a deep breath. Then I ask God to help me see her. Yes, I mean truly see her—pause to give her my full attention, listen closely, stop everything I’m doing and honor her with my complete focus. But I also mean SEE her, an acronym I’ve started using in situations like this one.
Support – This is different than rescuing, which says, “I’ll do this for you.” Support instead says, “You can do this, and I’m here to help.” One means taking responsibility for someone; the other means coming alongside others as they take responsibility for themselves.
Empathy – Sympathy says, “I feel sorry for you” while empathy says, “I truly want to understand what you’re feeling.” One implies that you’re somehow better than the other person, while the other expresses that we are all on this human journey together.
Encouragement – Spiritual cliches imply, “I want you to feel better because your pain makes me uncomfortable,” while encouragement expresses, “I want to remind you of what’s true—who you really are, how much you’re loved, that you’re not alone—so discouragement doesn’t make you give up.”
Rescuing can feel good in the moment but it eventually undermines relationships and leads to resentment. Why? Because we are created for “one another” relationships. Rescuing creates an unequal situation between people.
The opposite of rescuing is empowering people. My definition of empowerment is living in the fullness of who God created you to be and faithfully following what He has called you to do. For this to happen, each of us must take ownership of our own journey.
We will all have to face challenges, pain, and disappointments along the way. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV). If I had said this it would sound more like, “I have told you these things, so that you may see how much you need me. Then you’ll love me and never leave me.”
So much of my rescuing has come not from love but from fear. If I help this person feel better, then they’ll want me. If I can solve this problem, I’ll prove my value. If I can save the day, then I’ll be invited back into this person’s life tomorrow. Can anyone else relate?
Shifting this pattern starts with realizing that we are already loved. There is no fear in love, says John later on in the New Testament. When we stop being afraid, we can also stop rescuing and start empowering. Because we’re no longer driven to prove how much we’re needed.
At the end of the call the person I love lets out a deep breath and says, “Thank you, I feel better.” I can see the light coming back to her eyes, the tension in her shoulders releasing, her beautiful spark returning. She didn’t need me to rescue her. She just wanted me to walk beside her.
Isn’t that what Jesus does for us too? He doesn’t rescue us from all of our problems, but He does offer us His presence. He doesn’t fix every failure, but He does support us through them. He doesn’t do the hard work of being human for us, but He does let us know He understands what it’s like.
Jesus invites us to care for each other like He does. I’m still learning what that means, and all the ways His version of love is so much braver and better than just my rescuing.
MORE FOR YOU
Free resource: Now more than ever, we need to know how to be kind to each other. Some of that is, of course, expressed in what we do. But our words matter too. What do we say when someone we care about is hurting? Perhaps even more important, what do we not say? I’ve created a short Say This, Not That printable guide based on my work as a counselor, life coach, and fellow human who has said A LOT of things she wishes she could take back. Click here or on the image below for the free resource!
Exciting news: I have something NEW releasing next month! If you’re an introvert… or if you love an introvert… this is for you! More information is coming soon. If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to sign up for my Introvert Newsletter. Once a month, you’ll receive a short email from me with encouragement and practical tips.