Letting Go

Colossians 1:28 – We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. (NIV)

Part of my seminary training was spent dealing with people who had emotional problems. A group of our senior students were tutored by professional social workers who were attached to a local hospital. The purpose of the tutoring was not to show us how to help people with problems, but to learn that there are some situations where people cannot be helped.

This was not something that we accepted readily. As would-be ministers and zealous servants for the Lord, we believed that everyone could be helped, cured, and saved. There was no emotional problem that prayer could not overcome. There was no person who would end up being left behind. We had the power of the Spirit within us, and we were ready to save the entire world.

One of the senior social workers kept telling us that we had to accept our limitations. If people had severe emotional and mental issues, we had to learn how to let go and refer them to a specialist. Time and time again, he admonished us on how important it was to let go of our pride and zeal when people were beyond our help. Too many pastors held on to people in counselling captivity instead of referring them to specially qualified counsellors.

One of our group wouldn't accept this. And when we were each assigned different patients to counsel, he went on a one-man mission to rescue, save, and cure the person under his care. He even visited the patient at her home, which was strictly taboo.

To cut a long story short, the patient ended up taking an overdose whilst the one-man mission worker was at her apartment. The paramedics rushed to her home and managed to save her life. A couple of days later, we were all ushered into the presence of the senior social worker. He plainly told us about the situation and this time, admonished us to remember the event and to recognize there were limits to what we could do to help people as pastors. It's a lesson I have tried to put into practice throughout my years of counselling. There are just some people who I personally cannot help. There are limitations in some situations to what I can do.

Sadly, the student who overstepped his boundaries remained a pastor for only a couple of years. He never learned this lesson, and took a nervous breakdown because of what in ministry we call "Saviour Syndrome". He just didn't accept his limitations. He just wouldn't refer people to other specialists.

Trying to help someone in a severe situation may lead to the helper carrying that person for years, offering support which only enables them to continue in their personal crisis. Sometimes the best help we can give to others is to offer no help at all — letting them go, and saying "No."

Prayer: Lord Jesus, even You could not heal everyone or solve all of their problems. There were times when people rejected Your advice or ignored Your admonitions. You healed many, but not all. Help us to understand this hard lesson, and grant us the courage to let go of those whom we cannot help. In Your holy name, we humbly pray. Amen.