Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blessers and Bleeders



The last time I was home, a friend reminded me of something I told her eons ago.

She said, “Kim, do you remember when you told me that you had more bleeders than blessers in your life?”

I had totally forgotten that I said that.

But it was true.

I have always had fairly intense relationships with people.  (Oh really, Kim? What a shock.)

When I love, I love. I can be stupidly faithful sometimes.

Mixed blessing.

Anyway, the time period to which my friend referred was when I was involved in trying to save the world and everybody in it.

That led to me feeling responsible for the happiness and well-being of a lot of basically unhappy folks. (This is sometimes described as “ministry.”) I suppose I thought that anyone who came my way had been sent, and that my job was to help them.

As a result of this thinking, there came to be a fairly large number of negative people in my life that I was trying to “fix.”

(If you’re in the vicinity of my age, you’ve learned by now how that usually goes.)

I was pouring myself into bottomless cisterns of need, and bleeding out. Then, in my fatigue and emptiness, I would run to the friends I looked upon as pillars of strength and dump on them. They would have to pump me back up so I could deal with the Bleeders again.

It was unbalanced and unhealthy.

The Boundaries book has perched, undisturbed, on my library shelf for years and years. Maybe I could have saved some time and energy if I’d ever taken the time to read it. But, as I said, I was too busy saving the world.

Meno-pots and Muffin-tops notwithstanding, there are many advantages of age. Not least of these is the ability to be discerning and discriminating in the choice of people we allow into our lives. The older you get, the more you realize that you have the right…the obligation (to your family and yourself)… to choose the Blessers over the Bleeders.

My friend’s comment took me back momentarily to that exhausting time in my life. And then I realized something:

I am not there anymore.

I can’t be.

I couldn’t function in the circumstances in which I now live if I did not have far more Blessers than Bleeders around me. I have to be selfish with my emotional energy in order to serve my family in the ways they need to be served.

This does not mean that I ruthlessly cut out from my life everyone that doesn’t make me feel good. Everyone weak or needy or difficult or angry or in trouble. (As Paul says for emphasis, By no means.) I believe that God calls us to minister to certain people because it will change us as well as them. (Or instead of them.) So that we may learn things like patience and forgiveness and unconditional love. So that we may experience the blessing of giving, while getting nothing back.

Then, there are those we just absolutely love, big hairy warts and all. And choose to pursue a relationship with, even if they drain us. And, of course, there are people you couldn’t get away from even if you wanted to, such as in the workplace, school, or other daily activity.

But I don’t believe we are “called” into vital relationship with every person who meanders in and out of our hemisphere. There are times when you have to step back and let God take over, perhaps calling someone else into the job. Disengage.

In thinking over the past several months, I realize that I’ve been involved in intense interaction with a vast variety of humanity. Being the sensitive sort, I am strongly affected by those around me, from mean people in airports to inspirational young leaders like Sarah Ott. From family to friends to acquaintances to strangers.

I’ve finally come to understand that I have to right to choose to surround myself with those who build me up, not tear me down. Who inspire, not depress. Who encourage me to go higher, not sink deeper. Who stir me up, not quench my spirit.  Who strengthen, not sap. Who incite me to keep running toward the goal. (And then pick me up when I fall.)

So do you.

Cherish those friends as gifts from God. Do your best to care for those relationships. Invest in them. Nurture them.

Perhaps the majority of us are blessers and bleeders at one time or another. Sometimes we take more than we give, and vice versa. I think I’ve probably bled some friends almost dry.

But I want to become more of a blesser with every day that passes by.

God help me to do so.


***************

I am painfully aware of the many grammatical errors… esp. the pronoun usage!... in this piece. However, with my grandson literally crawling all over me and trying to type along with me, this is gonna be as good as it gets today. Hope it’s halfway coherent.

***************

Okay. He's gone now. 

So, anyway...  Does anyone think this sounds harsh or selfish? To choose to surround yourself with more positive personalities than negative ones?  How do you discern which costly relationships to remain in vs. which ones to let go of? How do you differentiate between 'ministry' and being a doormat or a whipping post? Between loving unconditionally and being co-dependent? Between 'loyalty' and stupidity? Anybody got any thoughts to share?

p.s. I'm still checking the prayer lady. Please continue to feel free to use her for sharing your needs. Does any techno-genius know how to reverse the order of comments so that the most recent will be at the top? Thanks for any help! kim

17 comments:

Laurel said...

I think it is far from selfish to choose to surround yourself with people who replenish your spirit. In many ways, it is a form of praise, enjoying the gifts you've received in the form of friends and family.

At the other side of the argument, rescuers aren't selfless by nature. They are motivated by whatever reward, real or imagined, they get from rescuing other people. It is a false premise that exhausting yourself in the service of others is selfless.

All the pop culture labels we now have for irrational caregiving, like co-dependent and enabling, recognize that supporting someone who won't be helped is destructive for both parties.

We should minister judiciously and accept the ministry of others. Even Jesus let other people care for Him from time to time.

The Retarded Mother said...

Kim,
You already are a true and very real bless-er. I cannot believe how much I identify with this exact same issue. There is, for sure, a fine line between ministering and "door matting."
This post really resonated for me and in me. I, too, struggle with it all the time. Defining those boundaries is so important. We are no good to anybody if we have allowed somebody to use us up.
But, yes, I struggle too.
I can't wait to read what others of your readers have to offer on this. We can learn from each other.
Kim, your posts are lights of love in this world. I hope you know that. Marianne

Anonymous said...

I've never posted a comment before, but couldn't let this one go by without one. I so appreciate all that this posting is about. I think age is one thing that allows us to quit thinking of what we think we 'should' do and to get comfortable in our own skin. It's then that we realize by taking care of ourselves we have so much more to give to others. Thanks, Kim!

Abby said...

I have noticed there are times in my life when I don't want to deal with my own heart aches. So I let myself get sucked into more 'bleeder' situations. It's always easier to help with someone else's mess.
But those are exactly the times when it is wrong for me to ignore what needs my attention within my own life, within my own family.
In times of blessing in my own family, I am better able to honestly carry the weight of more bleeders without causing suffering in the lives of those I am called to tend to first.

Anonymous said...

If you are talking about negative extended family members--well, that is a different ballgame altogether. But in general, you can love unconditionally even negative/ non-productive family members but you don't have to contribute financially or become emotionally enmeshed in their difficulties..love the sinner but hate the sin so to speak. Their success or failure does not rest in your good deeds.....



In the end, We can only be responsible for our own behavior and you can only be a doormat if you ALLOW it to happen! And age really does give one the courage to 'speak up' without giving a damn what other people think!

Anonymous said...

"bleeders" get the blame, when it takes 2 to tango. we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. seeing that our core nature is to love ourselves, accomplishing this requires God. We are all bleeders, and unfortunately, the bleeders get the finger pointing at being unhealthy, when those who enable them are just as much responsible. i believe we are called to point people to Christ, and to love them as we love ourselves. I think we have to have discernment and there are seasons of life where we have to really pull back - like you'r having to now. but in our day to day, we aren't just called to our selection of the top notch, or like-minded.

it's a sin for us to believe we can change or fix people, it's damaging for us to try and then pull away when we get overwhelmed. when people run to other people, instead of the Lord- it can become draining if we are trying to fill in for Him. of course there are those who just flat out want to bleed, and in those situations of course we have to be cautious, not just for ourselves- but also for them. i think we don't realize that in our attempts to help, and minister - many times we deepen wounds because we back up, disappear, don't know how to help, or place blame on the other person because we don't know what else to do.
i think this is a trend with Christians, and I just wanted to comment because honestly, it's not our place to assign these labels. the blessers, bleeders and everyone in between all are bleeders and require grace - and as limited, humans the only consistent source of true grace comes from the Lord and if we aren't pulling from that, we are bound to crash and burn, feel drained.
i'm not sure i'm making sense here, and i definitely want to repeat that i think in seasons like the one you're in now, it's wise to do what you're doing, and pull away.. i just know that in high school, i thought i was a bleeder, but didn't know God and just wanted to be loved and didn't know what else to do. i had a youth leader who would meet with me every week, and then disappeared, this happened a few other times and i was certain it was me, and that i was the unhealthy and they were just protecting themselves. i look back now and see it different. at that point, the only thing i knew to do was stop letting people in because if i did, i knew if they really got to know me they would run. i shut out the world, and truly felt like as a Christian i had to rely only on GOd, and it wasn't ok to need friends in my life,etc. thankfully God showed me otherwise-and still is. it took me awhile to fully get that He is enough, and by placing Him first, the relationships, the give and the take, the ones who are requiring extra grace,etc all of them don't determine my stability- God does.

Anonymous said...

"bleeders" get the blame, when it takes 2 to tango. we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. seeing that our core nature is to love ourselves, accomplishing this requires God. We are all bleeders, and unfortunately, the bleeders get the finger pointing at being unhealthy, when those who enable them are just as much responsible. i believe we are called to point people to Christ, and to love them as we love ourselves. I think we have to have discernment and there are seasons of life where we have to really pull back - like you'r having to now. but in our day to day, we aren't just called to our selection of the top notch, or like-minded.

it's a sin for us to believe we can change or fix people, it's damaging for us to try and then pull away when we get overwhelmed. when people run to other people, instead of the Lord- it can become draining if we are trying to fill in for Him. of course there are those who just flat out want to bleed, and in those situations of course we have to be cautious, not just for ourselves- but also for them. i think we don't realize that in our attempts to help, and minister - many times we deepen wounds because we back up, disappear, don't know how to help, or place blame on the other person because we don't know what else to do.
i think this is a trend with Christians, and I just wanted to comment because honestly, it's not our place to assign these labels. the blessers, bleeders and everyone in between all are bleeders and require grace - and as limited, humans the only consistent source of true grace comes from the Lord and if we aren't pulling from that, we are bound to crash and burn, feel drained.
i'm not sure i'm making sense here, and i definitely want to repeat that i think in seasons like the one you're in now, it's wise to do what you're doing, and pull away.. i just know that in high school, i thought i was a bleeder, but didn't know God and just wanted to be loved and didn't know what else to do. i had a youth leader who would meet with me every week, and then disappeared, this happened a few other times and i was certain it was me, and that i was the unhealthy and they were just protecting themselves. i look back now and see it different. at that point, the only thing i knew to do was stop letting people in because if i did, i knew if they really got to know me they would run. i shut out the world, and truly felt like as a Christian i had to rely only on GOd, and it wasn't ok to need friends in my life,etc. thankfully God showed me otherwise-and still is. it took me awhile to fully get that He is enough, and by placing Him first, the relationships, the give and the take, the ones who are requiring extra grace,etc all of them don't determine my stability- God does.

Kim Arnold said...

These are interesting and insightful comments. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. Much to reflect upon.

In re-reading the post, I realize that I hastily typed some things which I could have expressed more clearly and kindly if I had taken the time. I agree with the last anonymous comment that labeling people is wrong. We are ALL in need of grace.

I think I dealt with some of these issues in the post entitled "Great Expectations."

There is more to be said on some of the topics raised. Another day....

p.s. If you choose to use the Anonymous option, please do at least assign yourself a first name so that we may distinguish between authors. Thanks!

Lauren @ Embrace the Detour said...

I love this post, probably because I've come to the same conclusion you have. I think there are some people we are particularly equipped (and perhaps even uniquely designed) to help/love/journey with, and others who are better left to someone else. The trick, I think (and, I guess, this skill) is to be able to tell the difference.

CL said...

I am loath to sound a discouraging word, but even after requiring myself to wait twenty-four hours for good measure I felt too troubled to stay silent. I came back to comment and was so gratified to find the long entry by Anonymous above, which I think is full of grace and wisdom.

Bear in mind that I do not know any of you personally and so my contribution is not even a veiled commentary on any perceived deficits in you. I offer my comments based on the gathered observations of many years in inner city ministry.

I have never known the language of “boundary” drawing to be anything but a terrible snare. The problem with this construction is that it places too much emphasis on human agency and gives the lie to the idea that we are, in our maturity, just empty channels for God’s bottomless love. I understand the concern you are trying to address. In my neighborhood that same concern can mean the loss of a home, an entire bank account, or even a life. But I think the solution you are seeking is better found in developing a style of prayer that is almost like breathing … perhaps, not much more articulate than that. At the start of every human encounter and at all the midpoints along the way, pray for God’s direction whether He wishes you to engage or withdraw. Just be sure that you answer His “yes” and His “no,” and truly you will be fine. I agree with Anonymous that, if you are burning out in frustration, your source wasn’t Calvary Love.

For a different perspective on this question, I strongly recommend Amy Carmichael’s long poem “If” and every entry next to the word “Love” in the index to Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. I also commend them as precious examples of people who took extraordinary time and care before attempting to speak the word of God into human lives. Take all the time needed.

Anonymous said...

sorry, my name is emily {I'm the 2nd anonymous who double posted the same thing on accident} :)

Susan said...

This comment is really for Text Books, but it seems I am always behind. So, here comes one of my favorite messages from my son. Background here - I have always used powdered laundry detergent - no reason except that's what we used in my family. One day, I decided to join the modern world and bought liquid laundry detergent. Then, I went out of town.

I was sitting at a dinner, listening to the speaker and my phone started vibrating. It was my teenage son who actually knows how to do laundry.

Son: Where do you put liquid laundry detergent in the washing machine?
Me: Use it just like the powder.
Son: Shouldn't it go in that hole in the middle of the thing in the washing machine? (Note to y'all - that is boy-speak for the agitator)
Me: NO. That is only for fabric softener. DO NOT PUT IT THERE.
Son: ok
After a two minute pause -
Son: So, if I already put it there, is that a bad thing?

Guess where he had already put it.

Michelle Reynolds Lowe said...

Hi Kim, it's Michelle, the mother of 4 small kids including 9 month old twins. This is is one of the best posts you have ever written and I've read (and even re-read) all your blogging since Katharine's injury.

I am completely guilty of letting people drag me down and get caught up in their mess and called that "ministry". I think boundaries are critical to keeping priorities in life so we have the time for our families and those people whom we know God means for us to be in deep relationship with.

I even just had to fire someone and struggled with this issue but this person had become a major downer in our lives. I even considered keeping her on because i was concerned about her "spiritual life" when she was hindering mine! Stupid. But I do pray for her and will continue to pray for people I need to get some space from. I do that all the time. We can disengage, and still intercede on their behalf and often that is even MORE valuable than staying in their lives.

Thanks Kim - you gave voice to exactly what's been on my heart lately and I needed to hear someone else articulate it. Keep going! Love, Michelle

Cheri said...

I also waited to comment. I needed to ponder a while. It is easy to assume God will take others down the same path he has taken me. Four years after Ethan's injury I was still trying to be the same person and treat people the same way though I was no longer that person living that life. I was bleeding on them and they were bleeding on me. We were bleeding so much it was hard to tell whose blood was who. Trust me, it was a bloody mess! I knew I needed help and found a Christian counselor in our area. After me bleeding on her for about thirty minutes, she looked at me and said, "You don't know who you are in Christ." No truer words had even been spoken to me. I could write a small book about the next year I spent in counseling. Our experiences, our motives, our needs, our pain are all different. God gives each one of us the wisdom to say yes when we need to say yes and the strength and wisdom to know when to say no. I do believe that there are many New Testament examples of drawing boundaries. Learning to draw them (& when) helped to save my emotional health. Boundaries aren't to keep people out. They are for safety. Our safety and safety for others. I want to be a safe person for others. I will try to send you a wonderful devotion written by Henri Nouwen on this subject. It is named "The Draw Bridge." Appropriate name, isn't it?
Thanks for sharing. For being vulnerable. Much love.

Ginny Evans said...

Kim, I am inspired by your honesty and vulnerability and I cannot imagine walking in the shoes you have had to walk in the past two years as a Mother, but one thing I know....God has held your hand all the way and you are a blessing to all of us who read your blog. May God continue to pour Himself out in you and yours!! Katherine's blog today thrilled my soul!! She has come so far and God is so good!

Alex said...

I must really want to connect, because I have just spent 20 minutes logging in, creating an google identity only to discover I had one already and just failed to remember it, getting a new password. What the heck. Oh well.

Thanks for speaking eloquently on the need for balance - maybe you didn't mean it that way but that's the way I absorbed it. I get very unbalanced by the sad, the angry and the judgmental and the negative. I should have long outgrown it.

You're a blesser, I'm a blesser and we're blessed by those of the same ilk. thank God.

Carolyn Nolen said...

vulnerable...amy carmichael...if...discernment...I love the way the Holy Spirit is always connecting the dots in the Body of Christ. thanks for your words...