When people are in trouble it can get hard to know how to help.  That’s the trouble with trouble.  Performance oriented people, like myself, always tend to want to fix problems – the quicker the better!  Quite forgetting that people struggle with problems that have been years in the making.   People adapt to their situations even if the situation isn’t healthy and will tend to remain in it out of inertia and habit.

There is nothing more frustrating for a performance oriented rescuer than a slow response or even resistance to your best efforts to ‘help’.  Conversely, a person in trouble may not see their situation as dire or overwhelming as you do and not really want a change especially if it means that they have to give up something – like dope or alcohol.  Sometimes people can get as frustrated with ‘sincere ‘attempts to help them as ‘do-gooders’ like me get frustrated with their lack of response or resistance.

When trying to help someone you think is in trouble you need discernment, big time!  Pray for it.  Ask lots of questions.  Listen, Listen, Listen!  Most problems are not a crisis but rather chronic.  That means that you don’t need to respond right away.  There is time to pray, ask questions, check out the situation, talk to other ‘helpers’.  Sometimes a hasty inappropriate rescue attempt can make things worse.

A number of years ago, I was asked by a friend to help intervene  in the life of a long time alcoholic.  My friend and I went to the fellows place and tried to talk some ‘sense’ into him.  He was drunk as a ‘skunk’ while we were with him.    He had a long list of grievances, resentments and problems to rationalize his out of control drinking.  He didn’t see his life out of control rather the world had handed him a raw deal.  I asked him to stop drinking and he said he would as soon as he was done with his ‘six pack’.  He wouldn’t pour them down the drain.  Our ill conceived ‘intervention’ was a big waste of time for us.  Although, the fellow liked the attention, at least until I suggested getting rid of the beer!

Bob Lupton describes the difference between a crisis and a chronic issue in the following way; “Starvation is a crisis need; hunger is a chronic issue. Address hunger (chronic) with a free feeding program (crisis) and unhealthy dependency occurs.”  Making an addict your own personal ‘clean up’ project will harm you and it can also harm the addict.  Why? You can’t succeed because you are not the solution.  The addict has to come to the point of dealing honestly with themselves; “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.” (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Until the addict reaches the point of being honest with themselves and others that they are out-of-control no one can help them because they can’t even help themselves.  AA’s Big Book continues: “Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas: (a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. (b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism. (c) That God could and would if He were sought.”

Both the performance oriented ‘rescuer’ and the addict are in trouble if they can not let go of their own agendas.   Although AA’s Big Book speaks to the addict much of its wisdom can be applied to the helping person; “The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. . . . What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying.”  (AA’s Big Book)

The trouble with trouble and helping people out of it boils down to providing support where appropriate without removing a person’s accountability for their actions.  An article on ‘Helicopter Parenting’ underscores this general principle:  “And therein lies the problem: how can we help our children (and our spouses, friends and co-workers) achieve their goals without undermining their sense of personal accountability and motivation to achieve them?  The answer, research suggests, is that our help has to be responsive to the recipient’s circumstances: it must balance their need for support with their need for competence. We should restrain our urge to help unless the recipient truly needs it, and even then, we should calibrate it to complement rather than substitute for the recipient’s efforts.”

The Bible tells us; “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”  (Proverbs 3:27)  Following this simple proverb will help you avoid getting to the point where you resent helping in the face of resistance or lack of change and your own exhaustion.  It will also keep you from judging which is a real danger to your spiritual health; “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke  6:37)  And finally when trying to help, learn as much as you can about the situation; “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment”  (John 7:24)