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Christian Counseling - Rescuing Is Not Always Helping

We rescue people who are in need of help; those who can't help themselves, such as a drowning person or Haitian earthquake survivors. Discerning between rescuing and helping gets more complex in situations, like a 20's something gets arrested for drinking and driving or adult-children who get themselves into financial debt beyond their means to pay it back.

This often becomes conflictual in marriage as the opposing answer to how to handle a situation with their adult-children is battled out between them. Men and women frequently differ in their view of discipline. Most men take the position of thinking about the task--learning lessons, so rescuing is often secondary. On the other hand, most women think that the relationship is more important than the task. In the above examples, more often men would allow their adult-child to remain in jail and pay the fines (lesson learned), while women would rescue him or her from jail by paying the fines (relationship over task). Similar choices would be made by couples for those in serious financial debt. Two of the problems in these situations are that most women have great difficulty in coping with their son's or daughter's troubled feelings and would feel guilty if they didn't rescue. A second problem is men can lack deep empathy and/or devalue the importance of relationship. Deciding on whether the task or the relationship is most important is not always easy. It is best if one can keep both, but that is not always possible.

Most parents with means would help those who were first time offenders, but if it were the fifth time, we'd likely all agree rescuing wouldn't be appropriate. Sometimes the helpful thing to do is not rescue or save people from their problems, but let them wrestle, learn the skills and develop the confidence that they can save themselves. These can serve as motivations for avoiding bad decisions and future problems.

Inappropriate rescuing enables the violator's poor choices. It teaches them that irresponsibility can pay off and others will save them. It teaches them that dependency is permissible and comfortable. It also teaches them that thinking of oneself without due consideration for others is an acceptable ideology. A key point in discerning between rescuing and helping is asking whether or not the troubled people can help themselves. If they can, then rescuing is most often inappropriate.

The apostle Paul had to separate out rescuing from helping. In I Corinthians 7:7-11, he writes of his struggle with the need to confront the church and his desire not to hurt them. He labels and defines two types of experiential sorrow--worldly and godly. The former has no redeeming value, but the latter leads to change. Since this latter sorrow is good, we should not rescue people from those painful feelings or situations. Instead, we can stand with them and provide support. In the end, Paul gives assent to the idea that helping others is always right, but rescuing, one way of helping, may not always be the right choice.

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