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Integrating Compassion with the Wisdom of God’s Word

askauntdara@gmail.com


The purpose of Aunt Dara’s Christian Advice Column is to glorify God by addressing human needs with compassion and the wisdom of God’s word.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Caught in the Middle Between Her Boyfriend and Her Parents

Dear Aunt Dara,

I need advice on differing cultures between my parents and my boyfriend.  My boyfriend Bill and I have been together for about a year and a half and we are both almost thirty years old.  I have a large, tight-knit family, and we like to go out a lot and do community-oriented things in our home life.  His family is more independent, and they like to do their own thing in their home life.  Nevertheless, when I visit them his parents are always friendly and interested in what I've been doing.  But when he comes over to my home, there's an awkward tension of differences in etiquette when he enters the house.  My parents might be sitting in the living room, and he comes in quietly.  He might mutter, “Hey,” but it's just so awkward, and my parents won't say a word.  I used to probe things along by saying, "Hey, Bill’s here everybody," but I've given up on that.  I've talked to both parties about it, and they both have very different perspectives.  I have gone back and forth between them on this subject, and have had an exhausting number of talks with Bill about this.

My parents have said that as a man dating their daughter, he needs to show the proper respect of giving a decent hello.  In their perspective, it's their house, and the onus is on him to greet them first. If they say hello first then, they're enabling him.  This is embarrassing to hear. 

According to Bill, he does say hello, and they are the ones withholding a greeting and being rude.  He's the one coming in as a familiar guest and should be greeted rather than made to feel like an outsider.  Every time I ask him to give a more direct greeting, he thinks I'm putting him down.  He says it's just his personality, and they need to be more accepting.  It has become a big soft spot for him, as he feels like I'm not defending him—that I'm allowing my parents to dictate how he should do things (or change him) when they are not doing their part to welcome him. 

From my parents’ perspective, that's ridiculous.  They are asking him to be a man, and step out of his comfort zone a little.  They believe these are signs of immaturity and a lack of self-confidence and respect.  Despite the fact that they do get along when he's around (for the most part), neither side is backing down.  The opinions of my parents are hurtful, and Bill has made it known that he needs to know I can stand by him on this.  The awkward greetings continue to happen, and they are painfully embarrassing for me. 

Signed,
Caught in the Middle

Dear Caught in the Middle,

It’s clear that you are frustrated with this situation and you feel pressured as the one in the middle.  Being caught in the middle is rarely a good thing.  The person in the middle tries to deliver messages to both parties and be the mediator and negotiator.  This seldom works out well, and the person in the middle usually ends up displeasing both parties.  Your parents and boyfriend should be discussing this directly with each other (Proverbs 26:17, Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 18:15).

It would appear that your boyfriend and parents understand this from a different perspective and they have differing expectations about how people should behave.  As you pointed out, cultures differ.  Even families within a similar culture differ in their customs and mannerisms.  Your boyfriend needs to understand this and adapt to your parents’ expectations.  He cannot expect your parents to be like his family and accept his (perhaps) muttering a “Hey” as a proper greeting.  Your boyfriend sees your parents’ behavior as cold and unwelcoming, but he is misinterpreting your parents’ behavior.  Your parents see your boyfriend’s behavior as immature and disrespectful.  Your parents are correct.  Your boyfriend is demonstrating immaturity by using his “personality” as an excuse and he is demonstrating disrespect by continuing to offend your parents and refusing to change his behavior.  Furthermore, he is demonstrating immaturity by placing you in the middle, and then blaming you because you aren’t “defending” him.  He is old enough to understand this, and he needs to show proper respect toward his elders and honor your parents as if they were his own (Exodus 20:12, Leviticus 19:32, 1 Peter 5:5-6). 

God bless,
Aunt Dara

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Remaining a Virgin Seems to be More of a Burden than a Blessing

Dear Aunt Dara, 

I am a 21-year-old Christian woman and lately the struggle of being single and waiting until marriage has taken a toll on me.  The Bible tells us that we should wait until marriage before having sex and I do agree, but I feel the older I get the harder it is.  I am waiting, but it feels useless.  Most guys I talk to haven't waited, so I often wonder if it’s really worth it.  What am I waiting for then?  Being a virgin is getting to be a burden more than a blessing.  The Bible talks about not burning with passion and getting married and I know we weren't meant to be alone, but how am I supposed to wait when I have these feelings?  Since we are supposed to wait on God’s timing, what if I don't get married until later on in life?  I am in a state of confusion and even depression.  I meet a lot of guys that I come to like and then they tell me they haven't waited and I feel useless.  I hold so much value to my virginity, but does it have any value?  What if I marry a man that has had sex prior to marriage?  I know we should forgive, but it’s very difficult because I want that experience to happen for the first time for both of us.  I often feel like a naive girl who still believes in happy endings, and the more I date, the more I am upset and even angry at God.  I am sorry if my words are all jumbled, but I am trying to express all my emotions at once.  I hope to hear from you soon.   

Still Waiting 

Dear Waiting,

First of all, I would like to say that I believe that you have a heart for God and you really want to do the right thing.  I can tell that you are struggling with this, and it’s deeply affecting you spiritually and emotionally.  I pray that what I’m about to say is helpful and will serve to both guide you spiritually and alleviate some of your emotional pain. 

Two virgins sharing their first sexual experience on their wedding night is a dream that many Christian young people share.  However, reality often does not match our dreams, as you are discovering.  You state that you wonder if it’s worth it to keep your virginity when so many young men are not, and how would you be able to forgive your husband if he was among those who had sex prior to marriage.  We forgive others because we have been forgiven.  As Christians, we are all weak, fallible human beings who are trying to do the best we can to please God and avoid sin, but temptations are strong and we sometimes give in (Romans 7).  The point is to not give up trying to please God and turn to committing sin deliberately and habitually (Romans 6:16, Hebrews 10:26-27).  I think that young people get caught up in the idea of finding someone to marry so we will be able to satisfy our sexual urges, which are normal for us to have.  However, we are missing the point.  Submission to God’s will and His timing should be our goal, rather than fulfilling the lust of the flesh.  Too many young people rush into marriage because of fleshly lust, only to regret it later.  Getting married should not be our goal.  Following God’s will should be our goal.  If marriage is His will for us, He will bring the right person into our lives at the right time—and that’s why maintaining our virginity is worth it.   

It’s worrisome that this has become a self-esteem issue for you and you are struggling with feelings of uselessness, depression, and anger toward God.  I strongly suggest that you find an older Christian woman and share with her your struggles (James 5:16), and if your self-esteem and depression do not improve, please talk to a professional counselor who is a Christian.  I also suggest that you read “Having Sex in a Committed Relationship with the Person You Love” that I posted on February 21, 2016 and pay particular attention to the Footnote to My Readers Regarding Sin which is at the end of that post.

God bless,
Aunt Dara

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Must Christians Reconcile with Abusive Family Members?

Dear Aunt Dara,

As a Christian, I struggle with some family situations and would like some advice.  I am the youngest child in my family, and my mother is narcissistic.  While growing up, I was trained to be subservient to all of them and they never stopped expecting that behavior from me even as an adult.  For no reason, my sister stopped talking to me, and then three years later wrote me a letter apologizing, but also expressing her extreme jealousy of me.  I chose to not respond.  My brother has always been a bachelor and I was close to his last girlfriend.  When they split up, she sent me emails and pictures she had taken off his computer to prove to me that he had been cheating on her with prostitutes the entire time.  He has been involved in sex tourism going to other countries.  Trained as I was, I kept my mouth shut about what I knew.  A year later, he started dating another lady and wanted to bring her to my house during Christmas.  When I said he could not, he went ballistic and threw me out of his life.  I told my mother what my brother had been doing with the prostitution, and she chose to ignore it and tried to bully me into ignoring it, too.  I don’t speak to any of them anymore.  However, the lady my brother was seeing got pregnant.  They got married but split up about 4 months later after she found out what he was doing.  I now have a relationship with her and my nephew who is 3.  I haven’t spoken to my mom or brother for 4 years, nor my sister for 8 years.  I am 54.  I went to counseling for 6 months, and I pray for all of them and I feel as if I’ve worked through my feelings.

So here’s the issue for me.  I live a good, happy life.  We have one son, grown and doing great.  I go to church regularly, sing in the choir, and have many friends (some, like family).  This is the first time I’ve had a group of people surrounding me that mostly think I’m fantastic!  I’m a grateful and happy person.  But I often hear preachers talk as if all good Christians find a way for reconciliation.  When I think about extending a hand of peace to any of these people, I think about the chaos and unhappiness it will bring back into my life.  I’ve spent most of my life being bullied by my family, and walking on egg shells.  It’s very difficult for me to believe that God wants me to have people in my life that have been and will be abusive to me again if I extend an olive branch.  Can you clarify this for me?

Thank you for your thoughts,
Finally Happy


Dear Finally Happy,

Thank you for writing to me about your questions.  First of all, I would like to commend you for getting counseling and working through your emotions related to your family relationships.  And I am pleased that you are now happy and living a Christian life.  I can tell that you are a conscientious person who wants to be pleasing to the Lord in everything.  Some well-meaning preachers and other Christians tend to make assumptions regarding how Christians are to behave in human relationships, especially family relationships.  These assumptions are: (1) “All good Christians will find a way for reconciliation.” (2) “Forgiveness requires that the relationship be restored.” (3) “God wants Christians to maintain relationships with family members, even abusive ones, simply because they are family.  Therefore, good Christians must restore broken relationships with their family members.”  The scriptures that are most often used to support these assumptions are Matthew 5:23-25 that teaches that a person needs to be reconciled with his brother before offering his gift on the altar, multiple scriptures that teach that Christians must forgive others, and multiple scriptures that say that Christians must be patient and longsuffering.  Inherent in all three assumptions is a judgment statement: Christians must do these things.  If they don’t, then they are not good Christians.   

Assumption 1:  “All good Christians will find a way for reconciliation.”  There is no such thing as a good Christian or a bad Christian.  There are only forgiven Christians.  Christians can be faithful or unfaithful.  When a brother or sister says that we are not being good Christians, in reality they are making a judgment that we are unfaithful Christians.  When they say that a good Christian must find a way for reconciliation with everyone, they are misapplying Matthew 5:23-25.  If you look at verse 22, you can see that Jesus is teaching that if you remember that your brother has something against you (i.e. your brother has a cause to be angry at you), then go and be reconciled with your brother (i.e. ask your brother to forgive you).  Certainly, we cannot be reconciled with someone who is angry at us without just cause to be angry.  We are not responsible for other peoples’ thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.  How can we be responsible for restoring a relationship when we have done no wrong?  That is why Romans 12:18 tells us, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  Sometimes with some people, it is not possible to have peace.  In other words, sometimes reconciliation is not possible. 

Assumption 2:  “Forgiveness requires that the relationship be restored.”  Forgiveness is not a suggestion.  It’s a command.  Matthew 6:14-15 and many other scriptures tell us that we must forgive or we will not be forgiven.  Forgiveness is something that takes place in our heart (Matthew 18:35).  Jesus gave us the formula for how to forgive in Matthew 5:44, which says to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who use us and persecute us.  It is nearly impossible to feel anger and resentment toward someone if we are praying that God will bless them and we do good to them.  However, forgiveness does not necessarily require reconciliation.  How do I know this?  Because reconciliation requires a willingness from both people.  If the other person refuses to reconcile with you, does that mean that you have not forgiven?  Of course not.  God is not going to judge us based on the emotions or behaviors of other people.  Remember—you are not responsible for anyone’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors except your own.  Does God want you to have people in your life that have been and will be abusive to you again?  NO.  (Even Jesus did not try to be reconciled with his enemies, and He had many!)  Now, if those people repent, then forgiveness with reconciliation will be possible (Luke 17:3-4).  If they do not repent, then shake the dust off your feet (Matthew 10:14). 

Assumption 3:  “God wants Christians to maintain relationships with family members, even abusive ones, simply because they are family.  Therefore, good Christians must restore broken relationships with their family members.”  I am aware that the fifth commandment says to honor father and mother, but Jesus said that there are relationships that surpass human family relationships (Matthew 12:46-50).  Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught that there are more important things than maintaining human family relationships (Matthew 8:21-22, Mark 10:28-30, Luke 14:26).  We must not allow any family relationship to hinder our walk with the Lord.  We need to surround ourselves with people who will help us to get to heaven and avoid those who are a source of drama, bullying, chaos, and abuse. 

In closing, reconciliation with your family members is possible only if they express a desire to reconcile with you and if they demonstrate repentance by treating you better.  Those preachers who tell you that “all good Christians find a way for reconciliation” mean well, but they are confused about what forgiveness means and have misunderstood Jesus’ teaching on reconciliation in Matthew chapter 5.  Additionally, they cannot judge you.  They have not lived your life and they don’t understand your situation.  God knows, and He’s the only one you need to answer to.   

God bless,
Aunt Dara

Friday, February 9, 2018

Was Leaving the Right Thing to Do?

Dear Aunt Dara,

I had a bad experience at a church and ended up leaving, but I wonder if leaving was the right thing to do.  It was a very small church, only about 6 or 7 persons who met at the pastor's house.  I had been very close friends with the pastor and his wife, and they said I was like their daughter, so I wanted so much to keep the friendship.  However, the church had a lot of issues that were either glossed over or ignored.  It was nothing blatantly sinful, though.  For example, we started 20-30 minutes late every single week, but some of the things were personal.  There was a woman in the church who made fun of things I liked.  She once asked me what book I was reading before service, and when I told her she immediately sneered, "Oh, why would you want to read about that?"  I was hurt but I didn't say anything because this woman had lost her husband and son in recent years and she was basically viewed as a pillar of Christian faith.  However, everything I said, from making a joke to expressing an opinion, was seen as critical by the pastor.  I was constantly being scolded about being critical and he frequently told me to get over myself and stop having the critical spirit.  

The pastor and his wife got a dog.  They knew I didn't care for the dog, so they attempted to train the dog to leave me alone.  They would say to the dog, "Leave it! Leave it! Leave it!"  I hated being called "it" and being used as a training tool.  They eventually got another dog and treated the dogs as their children.  I was disgusted by the dog hair covering the meeting room, the filthy dog toys everywhere, and the "cute" dogs' constant interruption during service, but if I said anything, it would have been seen as selfish and critical.  I didn’t like dogs, but everyone else did.

I shared some of my private struggles with the pastor in an email, and he shared it with the church without even asking me if it would be okay.  I was terribly hurt.  Eventually things got so bad that I cried every time I arrived at church because I felt so hurt inside.  Finally, the pastor decided we needed a talk, but the talk was him blaming me for everything and scolding my critical attitude, giving me a guilt trip, then telling me I would not fit in anywhere else.  Then I made him mad and he grabbed my arm and shoved me across the driveway to my car before basically insulting me in front of his wife.  I have not been back since.

I still feel terrible about what happened.  We were all supposed to be close-knit, but I had not fit in there for a long time.  Getting made fun of by the woman mentioned earlier did not help matters.  I begged God for months and months to change me so I would like dogs, among other things, but He did not.  I feel as if I didn't do enough to salvage the relationship.  You are only hearing my side of the story, but those I have talked to have mostly said that my old pastor was controlling and mean and that it was good I got out.  What is your opinion?

Confused Woman
 

Dear Confused Woman, 

To continue to attend a church where you feel that level of hurt and you cry at the thought of being there takes a lot of strength and dedication to the Lord.  It sounds as if you struggled a lot to fit into that church and did what you could to make it better.  I am sure that God saw your efforts and understands your struggles.  I have observed that sometimes when we have done all that we can do to make the best of our current church (or job), leaving is often the best solution.  When we look back later we are able to see that God used the problems associated with that church (or job) because He had a better plan for us—another church or job where He wants us to be.  You need not feel bad about leaving that church, for leaving may have been what God intended for you to do.  I hope that you have found another church where you feel edified and accepted.  Some of the scriptures that deal with how Christians are to treat one another are found in Romans chapter 12, Galatians chapter 5, Ephesians chapter 4, Philippians chapter 2, Colossians chapter 3, 1 Peter chapter 3, and 1 John chapters 3 and 4.

By the way, had the spirit of love been in that church, the pastor and his wife would not have persistently used the dog to harass you.  Furthermore, allowing the dog to interrupt church services was disrespectful toward God. 

God bless,
Aunt Dara

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Should She Pursue a Relationship with an Age Difference?

Dear Aunt Dara,

I am a 31-year-old single woman.  I have a question on age differences.  I have been talking online to a guy I know who is 19 (soon to be 20 in less than a month).  He has shown some interest in me.  He is a Christian man and we share the same beliefs.  Would it be unbiblical or unwise to pursue this?  I feel people would judge me, especially because about 3 or 4 years ago he had been a student of mine. 

Unsure

Dear Unsure, 

Unbiblical, no.  Unwise, probably. 

There is nothing in the Bible that forbids romantic relationships or marriage when there is a significant age difference, regardless of which one is the older of the two.  Generally speaking, society tends to have more negative regard toward a female being the older one, but nothing in the Bible indicates that such a relationship is wrong.  I have not been able to find a specific example in the Bible involving a marriage between a significantly older woman and a younger man, but Genesis 38:11 does give an example of Judah promising his widowed daughter-in-law that she could marry his youngest son when he was grown. 

However, in your case it would probably be unwise to pursue this.  First of all, wide age differences tend to become less significant when the people involved are older.  For example, if the younger of the two is in his or her 30s, both will have achieved sufficient maturity to meet the inevitable challenges that are unique to marriages involving disparate ages.  In your case, you have had years of experience as an adult, but he is just now entering adulthood.  He does not have the life experiences and independent living skills necessary to become the head of the household, and he likely still possesses many adolescent characteristics.  Therefore, you will likely find him to be too immature for you.  Secondly, both of you will face criticism and disapproval from others, so both of you will have to have a solid sense of self-esteem and self-confidence to withstand others’ disapproval and negative remarks.  It’s doubtful that a 19 or 20-yr-old has developed this level of maturity.  Be prepared for the stiffest disapproval to come from his family, especially his parents.  At worst, they may see you as the older woman who poses a threat to their son who is still a boy in their eyes, and they may try to break up the relationship.  At best, they will be suspicious of your motives.  Lastly, it would be unwise for the reason that you stated—you used to be his teacher.  Even if you have not been his teacher for a few years and he is no longer a legal minor, you will still be the subject of accusations and disapproval.  This could potentially have a damaging effect on your professional career.  With all these potential pitfalls, are you sure you want to take the chance? 

For further information on this topic, please refer to my post on January 4, 2011 titled “She’s Old Enough to be his Mother.” 

God bless,
Aunt Dara

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Did She Receive a Message from God?

Dear Aunt Dara,

I think I may have received a message from God, and I'm not sure what to do with it.  When my husband and I were dating, we went to a music festival at a ski resort.  While on the mountaintop there, I had a "thought" that the following summer I would get engaged in that very spot.  It was completely unbidden, something like a whisper to my soul.  It made me nervous, but also gave me peace.  I prayed about it frequently over the following days, and sure enough, it came to pass.

Recently, I had a very similar experience.  This time the "thought" was that I would be pregnant on my brother's wedding day.  This was before he and his fiancĂ© set their date, but now they have one.  Their wedding is in October of next year.  So, if this truly was prophetic and my math is right, I could find myself expecting as soon as two months from now!  My dilemma is whether or not to tell my husband.  He is under a lot of stress right now, between work pressure and spiritual struggles, and I don't want to add to his burdens (especially if it turns out to be nothing).  But at the same time, I feel bad not telling him in case it is true and our whole life is about to change!  We've been married for two years and are pretty well in agreement when it comes to various aspects of child-rearing, including wanting to wait at least another year or two before we start trying. 

I keep going back and forth over whether to tell him what I experienced.  I don't feel peace about it either way.  What should I do?

Blessings,
Worried Wife


Dear Worried Wife,

You ask if you should tell your husband that you have a message from God that you will be pregnant next summer when your brother gets married.  I think that it would be a mistake to share this with your husband for two main reasons:

First of all, you mentioned that your husband is currently having spiritual struggles.  What would happen to him spiritually if he believed that you had a message from God and it did not come to pass?  We know that it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18).  If this truly is a message from God, it will come to pass.  Therefore, if your husband believes that you received a message from God and it doesn’t come to pass, his trust in God will plummet.  He may even doubt the existence of God.  Therefore, it is best to not tell your husband anything and to take a wait-and-see approach. 

Secondly, you have no way of knowing that your “thought” is a message from God.  Even you acknowledged that it might not be from God.  You are basing the possibility that it could be a message from God on a past experience in which you had a “thought” about something that came true.  This is flimsy evidence, at best, that God is sending you messages through you thoughts.  The Bible tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Many people have believed things that were not true and made mistakes that they have long regretted because they followed what they believed God was speaking to them in their heart.  The Bible tells us that in times past God spoke to individuals through various ways (such as directly, audibly, in dreams, in visions, through prophets, and other ways), but now He speaks to us through the words of Jesus and the Bible which is the inspired word of God (Hebrews 1:1-2, 2 Peter 1:21).  An examination of all the Biblical examples of God speaking to people indicate that in all cases it was so that God’s will would be accomplished.  I can find no example that God ever gave a specific message to any individual regarding personal future events.  (I invite my readers to show me any examples that they may find.)  Therefore, rather than wondering that God might be sending you messages about your future through your thoughts, it’s best to just trust your future to God and live each day as it comes (Matthew 6:34). 

God bless,
Aunt Dara

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Must a Christian Help Everyone Who Asks for Assistance?

Dear Aunt Dara, 

This school year has been very trying for my husband and myself.  We've been helping friends and family with many favors lately, but now I feel as though I'm a wet rag being squeezed dry.  My mother's vehicle broke down some months ago so every weekend or day off, I have to take her to run errands, pay her bills, buy groceries, etc.  At first I felt happy to help, but now it has become a stressor for me because I have to squeeze in all her errands plus my own.  We have three children and my life was already busy enough with them as it was.  My mom's solution is, "Why do you take them to so many birthday parties?” and, "Why do you have them in sports?"  In other words, why do anything for anyone else in this world, as long as I'm helping her?  She thinks I'm stressing myself out by having them participate in organizations and such.  I'm a little bitter toward her because I know my mom would not help me or anyone else that needs help.  She never has.  She's very selfish.  I had to work the moment I turned 16 and have had to support myself since.  I'm only thankful that my forced-upon independence taught me responsibility. 

Additionally, ever since my father-in-law’s girlfriend passed away, we've been having to help him financially.  We were happy to help him at first, but now it has become an annoyance because any extra money that we once had is gone.  My father-in-law doesn't seem to care that we have our own bills, our kids' expenses, etc.  We can't take a vacation or buy groceries without him thinking we're loaded, when in actuality we live paycheck to paycheck.  What annoys my husband the most is that his father has never been a giving, caring, or compassionate person with him.  When my husband was young and his parents divorced, he chose to live with his dad.  It turned out that his dad sent him away to live with various friends and relatives, but his dad still kept all the child support checks that came in from his mom.  When the time came for back to school shopping and my husband needed new clothes, shoes, and books, his dad refused to buy him anything because he could "never afford it.”  So at a young age, my husband had to start finding ways to make his own money to support himself.  We met and married young but have been blessed that we have always been able to support ourselves, without our parents' help but with God's help.  Throughout our 20 years of marriage, we have always put all our faith in Him and recognize that without Him, we wouldn't be where we are today.  We give Him all the glory and praise. 

In addition to helping our parents out, I have a couple of friends who have been needing our help this year.  Again, we are happy to help people when we are able to do so.  However, lately I feel as if we are being taken advantage of.  One friend leaves her kids with me at 6:30am each morning so I can take them to school with my own kids.  She has to rush to work from there.  My other friend relies on me to pick up her daughter from school at the end of the day, because she gets out of her job too late.  She either picks her up from my house really late in the evenings or, if she picks her up in a timely manner, she stays at my house chit-chatting until close to 10pm!  I don't get to make dinner, do chores, spend time with husband or kids, etc.  

I feel I'm at my wits end with all these people.  I have already had some minor meltdowns at home and start yelling over the silliest things just because I'm so frustrated, tired, and stressed out.  As a Christian, I feel we should be more like Jesus and help others with a happy heart.  My dilemma is that I used to have a happy heart when helping others, but lately I feel so angry and used.  I just want us to run far, far away and never come back!  I don't have the heart to be honest with any of them to tell them how I feel because I'm the type of person that will do anything to spare hard feelings.  I hate confrontations.  I've heard the saying, "Be a blessing and you'll be blessed.”  However, I just don't feel like I deserve God's blessings because all I've come to do lately is just complain about these people.  Can you please give me some advice as to how I should be feeling toward everyone?  I feel wrong for having ill feelings toward these individuals but I can't help it. 

At Wits End 

Dear Wits End, 

Let me summarize:  Your mother is demanding of your time and dependent on you for transportation.  Your father-in-law is dependent on your money to meet his living expenses.  Your friends depend on you to provide free babysitting and they interfere with your ability to meet the needs of your own family.  You don’t have any time for yourself, your husband, or your children.  You feel as if you are being squeezed dry and would like to run far, far away.  You are at your wits end and feel stressed, tired, frustrated, and angry, and so you end up yelling over minor things.  Conclusion:  You feel as if you are being used because you are being used, and those negative feelings are the natural result of stress from being taken advantage of.   

While it is true that Christians are to follow Jesus’ example and do good to others (Acts 10:38, Galatians 6:10), it appears that you have taken this to the extreme and are wearing yourself out in trying to help others.  Jesus frequently took breaks from teaching the multitudes and healing the sick so that He could meet His own needs (Luke 5:15-16).  The Bible instructs us to be temperate in all things (1 Corinthians 9:25, 1 Timothy 3:11), which means to show moderation, to have self-restraint, and to do things within a reasonable limit.  That even includes doing good works within a reasonable limit, and the Bible warns us that we will destroy ourselves if we do not (Ecclesiastes 7:15-16).  The Lord never intended for us to allow ourselves to be used or to do so much for others that we totally wear ourselves out and neglect our own family and our own needs.  

It appears as if you believe that to be like Jesus you must help everyone, so therefore you must not turn down a request for help.  Jesus recognized when people were trying to take advantage of Him and did not give them what they wanted (John 6:22-27).  He did not always respond to requests and He set conditions for the people He helped (Matthew 15:21-28).  Additionally, God does not always give us what we ask for in prayer and sets conditions for His blessings (John 9:31, James 1:5-8, James 4:3, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9).  Therefore, if God can deny requests and set limits and conditions for what He does for people, then we can do the same.  You have the right to set appropriate limits and conditions with others, and you have the right to turn down requests.  It is okay to tell your friend that she must pick up her child by a certain time.  It is okay to tell her that it’s time for her to leave because you need to cook dinner for your family.  It’s okay to set limits for your mother and father-in-law. 

Are you actually helping these people, or are you fostering dependency?  Helping means that you render assistance, and inherent in this definition is the understanding that such aid is temporary until the person no longer needs assistance (2 Corinthians 8:11-14).  If the person is not moving toward gaining independence, it ceases to be “receiving help” and becomes a reliance or dependency on the giver.  What effort has your mother made to repair her car or to obtain other means of transportation?  What effort has your father-in-law made to be able to manage his expenses on his own?  What would they do without you?  If you were no longer able to provide transportation for your mother or give money to your father-in-law, what would they do?  It appears that you are no longer helping your mother and father-in-law.  They have become dependent on you and you are supporting them.  If you continue to provide transportation and money to them, they will have no motivation to work toward becoming independent.  Your first responsibility is to your own family—to your husband, children, and home.  You and your husband need to have an honest discussion with each other to come to an understanding of what changes need to be made to set reasonable limits with them to reduce your burden and stress.

God bless,
Aunt Dara