SOURCE: Henry Cloud/John Townsend
People on the go often have dependent relationships that they don’t know what to do with. These are individuals who, for any number of reasons, have tremendous life struggles and challenges and often deal with grave problems. They are needy and ask for a great deal of time, energy, and support. You may find yourself functioning as someone’s life support system. For example, you may have a friend who is going through a divorce and calls often for advice and a listening ear. Or you could have someone who has lost a job and is trying to pick up the pieces. Sometimes a needy person has a long history of failure and crisis and has for years been dependent on others to take care of him.
A needy person is often a very good person who is not truly toxic at heart. He may simply be going through his own dark night of the soul, as do all of us at some point in life. Or he may have a dependent character issue that prevents him from being autonomous and in charge. Though a needy person may be good hearted, his impact on you and your aspirations may have the outcome of being toxic and a distraction from your path.
It is important to realize that most needy people truly need help, support, time, and encouragement. They often benefit greatly from a community that connects with them to give them safety and stability. We are all called to reach out to the needy and give back what has been given to us. That is a large part of what life is all about. So if you have a dependent relationship in your life, make sure that you are being generous, sacrificing, and caring for that person.
At the same time, however, be certain that what you are doing is actually what is best for him. It is easy to think that being totally available to struggling individuals is what they need. Sometimes that is true. For example, if you have a child who is very ill or has a serious problem, a great deal of life must go on the back burner so that you can give him the time and resources he needs. Or your friend in a marital nightmare may, for a season of life, call on you often to keep her existence together. Helping those with needs such as these can be right, loving, proper, and good. In fact, for some people, that ability to help the needy is their true calling. Mother Teresa is a wonderful example. Meeting the desperate needs of others puts those people in their right place. For others, helping the afflicted coexists with and is supported by their own desire to grow, change, and achieve.
But it’s important to be aware that sometimes a needy person needs more than we can provide. That is not his fault; it is just the reality of his situation. You may not have the expertise to meet his needs that a counselor, support group, or financial expert might provide. If that is the case, become a conduit for help, rather than the sole source of care. You may help that individual better by being a bridge to what is really needed. If your friend is hemorrhaging, it may not be your job to be the surgeon, but rather the ambulance that gets him to the surgeon. Also, bear in mind that in crises, the early stages are generally more demanding than the latter ones. In the beginning, you may need to spend more time and energy until your friend is stabilized and able to walk better on his own.
So do not turn your back on the needy. Be there for them in the best ways that you can help. And as you give what you can truly provide, be sure that you also guide them to resources and structures that can help them on their own path. And continue taking steps down your own path.