By Steven Norris
Have you ever personally witnessed a train wreck? My guess is that not many of us can say that we have. However, most of us have had “front row seats” for the proverbial “train wreck” in the life of someone we love — a life that is out of control and is inevitably headed for disaster. What do you do in those situations?
As a pastor (and maybe even more acutely, as a parent), I’ve often found myself in conversations with individuals whose lives were out of control. It is clear to me that they are headed for disaster, but there seems to be no interest or willingness to change. What do you do when you desire change in a loved one more than they do? Let me offer four suggestions.
First, prayer is the best tool you have. Too often, we treat prayer like a last resort: “I guess all we can do is pray.” Prayer is an essential step as it has the power to effect change in others while also reconnecting our heart with the heart God. Prayer reminds us that we are not ultimately in control of the situations before us, but that we serve a God who is.
Second, ask yourself, “What is mine to do in this situation?” Too often, we overstep in situations because we want to help our loved ones avoid pain and heartache. In even more severe cases, we want to help them avoid harm. At the end of the day, however, I must remind myself that I am not responsible for the actions of others, only for the way in which I respond to those actions.
Third, realize that the best thing you can do may be to let a person go. In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of a man who had two sons. One was bent on rebelling against the father’s rules and household. I feel certain that this dad just wanted what was best for his son. The first act of grace, however, came when he let the son go. When that son finally hit “rock bottom,” he came home and restoration was possible. However, change could not take place until the son had “ridden that train” to its final destination. Sometimes, we have to be willing to let go until a person is ready to receive help.
Finally, there are times that we need to intervene. The scriptures lay out some guidelines for interventions in Matthew 18. When a person is engaged in behavior that is irreparably dangerous to themselves and others, there is a time to step in. Do not do it alone or expect the person being confronted to be happy about it. Realize also that change cannot happen unless the person confronted is ready and willing to put in the work and commit to the outcome.
As a parent, it has been hard to watch my boys learn some lessons the hard way. It is hard to let them make painful mistakes and seek to learn from them. Through prayer and careful discernment, however, we can all seek to be agents of Christlike change in our families, communities, and world.