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Helping someone versus “enabling” someone

The Vineyard

Dear Friends,

Helping someone versus “enabling” someone.  That’s what’s been plaguing my thought today.

I heard that one day, C. S. Lewis and a friend were walking down the road and came upon a beggar who reached out to them for help. While his friend kept walking, Lewis stopped and proceeded to empty his wallet. When they resumed their journey, his friend asked, "What are you doing giving him your money like that? Don't you know he's just going to go squander all that on alcohol?" Lewis paused and replied, "That's all I was going to do with it.”

In many ways that story sums up my dilemma. To me, “helping” means that my heart is set on making another person’s life better, somehow. It’s an act that  gives me hope that what I am doing is going to cause the recipient to have a better life.

On the other hand, “enabling” seems to refer to me doing something that keeps a person on their present track but does nothing to help them rise to a higher level.  But with that definition, C.S. Lewis was an enabler, not a helper; I just don’t think that this was the case. The question for me is: How can I know the difference?

By the end of the day, I determined that I really cannot be sure that my “helping” might unintentionally be “enabling” a person to be stuck where they are—-such as giving money to a beggar to buy more beer.  The real danger I see in ministry is that the warning of “not enabling” someone might be a hidden excuse for simply not helping or caring.  And while it is true that my helping might indeed do more harm than good, I believe that this is the exception, not the rule.

The truth is that Christ commanded us to be kind, compassionate, forgiving, forbearing, and charitable to the least of those we come into contact with. Whereas I cannot always tell if my intentions help or hinder someone, God certainly is able to know the difference and judges me on the intentions of my heart.  Yes! He looks at the true reason I try to help or why I show mercy and grace when it might not be wise.  If I wait for proof that what I am doing will help a person and not become a crutch to that person, I probably will never help another soul!

So I pray for discernment, guidance and the wisdom that God alone can give. And if I err in forgiving too much, or trusting too often, or helping in a way that really does help, God is able to work through my mistakes and bring about good regardless. But we’re called to have compassion, to try to make a difference and to show the love of God—even it at times we’re taken advantage of.


Dean Barley

The Vineyard

336 351 2070

919 360 8493 (Mobile)

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