There are two distinct stages in helping someone to grow. Firstly, help them to understand themselves – how they operate, what drives them, what emotional impulses arise. Once they have a working understanding of themselves and the particular ingredients that make up who they are then they can move on to the second stage which is to make good choices about what they do with who they are.
Now this is true for all of us. There is no alternative to learning to make good choices about what we do with those natural tendencies that we have. Those tendencies arise out of who we are by nature and may well have been reinforced by nurture. It is a massive thing to change those instinctive responses – but change them we must if we are to grow.
Perhaps we face a particularly difficult situation. We could be confused, disillusioned, hurt, or guilty - and we have a choice to make - stay stuck, collapse in a heap, retreat into self-pity or self-absorption or choose to get out of it by putting the other person first and acting responsibly. We can make a choice that is consistent with our calling as children of God. We can, and should, call out to God for help but that is different from expecting him to make the choice for us. When all our emotions are dragging us down and locking us up, we have to develop a strength that is more powerful than the emotions that have chained us into that self-constructed prison. That takes character. We can all make good choices when we feel good.
God will allow us to be in situations where he feels a million miles away. He refuses to answer your call for clarity – or sympathy. You are on your own. Now we know that isn’t true, but you are on your own in the need to make the right decision. If he stepped in to make it easier, it wouldn’t have the same strengthening effect, you wouldn’t be truly overcoming the stubborn emotional patterns that have spoilt and undermined you for years. He is doing you a favour by not interfering. As you begin to move in the right direction, he drops in those little encouragements, but he will not violate your need to choose.
I remember Larry Crabb writing that his father had a serious operation and when Larry went to pick him up from the hospital, his father said, ‘The Lord has given me a wonderful privilege. All the time I was in hospital, I had no sense of his presence at all. He trusted that I would trust him – and I did.’ Larry’s father came out of there with a deeper faith than when he went in.
It’s like bringing up a child. In early childhood there are many times when parental authority is the order of the day. The child is given opportunity to learn to make choices but within clearly defined parameters. As the child grows there comes a wonderful day when the parent can say when it comes to a major choice, ‘you choose’. That is where our heavenly Father takes us. He fills us with his Spirit, imparts his values but ultimately is teaching us to choose. That is freedom. Freedom to love, to live, to not be dogged by guilt and anxiety. It is a freedom to live in all the positives that God built into us when he made us. It is a freedom to be close to him, enjoy him and to live fully for his glory.