Last week I was struggling with an emotional decision. There is a person in my life, whom I love deeply, who really needed help. I thought to myself, if this was a stranger, would I help them? If it was, I could help them, providing money to deal with their immediate needs and hoping that would make everything better. I could walk away feeling I made a difference, feel less guilty and probably satisfied that I did something. The fact that they weren’t a stranger, made me feel, even more so, that I had to help and ask myself, how can I not help them? I had to do something more than provide a few dollars or make a few purchases. Aren’t I obligated to do more?
But this overwhelming feeling of obligation, that I had to help them, was soul crushing. The thought of taking on this burden was too much for me to add to an already very full plate. I felt heavy and more exhausted at the mere thought of doing it.
My Catholic upbringing and bible verses rang in my head –
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ ~ Matthew 25:35-40
Although no longer a practicing Catholic, the belief that we need to help each other is a constant stream in my subconscious right along side:
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
Was it their journey to go through and was I hindering their soul’s experience by getting in the way? Was I meant to teach them to fish? Or were they teaching me something? Was I not loving them, if I didn’t help?
Mother Theresa said, “Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.”
Maybe I didn’t need to take any big leaps of love and service. I was too tired.
Then I learned these three questions to ask when faced with a tough decision:
- Is it good for the other person?
- Is it good for me?
- Do I want to do it?
These were easy for me to answer. I didn’t need to think about it.
Two out of three answers were “no”. It was clear. I felt liberated from the weight of responsibility.
It didn’t mean that I didn’t feel any sadness towards the situation. It didn’t mean I couldn’t help in little ways. It didn’t mean I wouldn’t reconsider helping down the road or that my answers couldn’t change. What I knew was that my answer was ‘no’. Today I couldn’t do it.
Is there an area in your life where you’re struggling to make a decision? Ask yourself these three questions and notice how you feel when you answer them. Does your body feel lighter? Do the answers come easily? Do you breath a sigh of relief at knowing the answers? These are your clues. Pay attention and let the clues and answers guide you.