Enabling or Empathy

by Cynthia Jennings on October 19, 2022

It is disheartening when you share biblical discernment with someone, but they go away and do the opposite. It is especially troubling when you can easily see how their decisions will hurt them.

It is like watching a tornado barreling towards them, but they just sit there not trying to seek cover. There have been times when situations as such caused me much concern…. when all I was simply trying to do is help.

But realistically, trying to help someone is not possible if they do not agree they need to be helped. Even if I manage to momentarily move them out of the tornados path, they will eventually find their way back in the path of disaster.

Maybe you know this frustration as well.

So, here is the hard-core truth…. if your heart is more concerned and committed to change than the other person’s is, you will delay the damage of the tornado, but you will not be able to save them from it.

From my experience, the more you keep jumping in the path of the tornado to try to rescue that person, it is only a matter of time before you will be damaged by the tornado.

Another hard-core truth……truly sustainable, lasting change must come from inside a person’s own heart, not from people or pressure from the outside. When you try to pressure someone to accept help for changes they need to make, you step into the area of “control.”

This does not mean I will not continue to care about people, but it does mean I have changed my role and perspective. I want to help save them from their destructive lifestyle, but I am not the Savior. I want them to have to self-control, but I cannot give that to them. So, I shift from efforts of pressure (control and enabling) to efforts of compassion(empathy).

Efforts of pressure puts the focus on “me” wanting the best for them. Efforts of compassion puts the focus on Jesus, thus showing me how to love that person, empathize with their pain/struggle and letting God to do the work. It allows me to speak into a situation. But after I share my wisdom, advice, and discernment, I can make an intentional choice not to rescue them if they decide to walk away and do the opposite.

So, how do you know if you have crossed over from weeping with others in a healthy empathy to weeping with them enabling them to make unhealthy choices.

As a Christian Life Coach, I tell others, “I’m enabling you when I work harder on your issues than you’re working.”

Enabling includes:

* Allowing someone to violate your boundaries without any consequences.

*Co-signing their destructive behavior by defending their wrong,

*Covering or make excuses for them.

Empathy includes:

*Demonstrating biblical love- a love that is sacrificial, meaning we seek each other’s highest good by:

               *Admonishing (rebuke, warn, reprove) someone who has a destructive lifestyle.

               *Encouraging (comfort, alleviate, relieve) someone who is discouraged or dismayed.

               *Helping (uphold, support, assist) someone who is weak, vulnerable, immature.

Being empathic also understands, we can only extend…it is up to that person if they are willing to accept and execute the help.

None of us want to see others live destructive patterns, so we extend our help. However, our actions and reactions will either lead to enabling or empathy. Will your actions hurt or help?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I beseech You to transform me and help me have a heart focused on compassion and empathy instead of controlling and enabling. This can only be done by rearranging my thoughts, actions, and words. I am asking for wisdom as I read Your word and guidance as I live out Your word. I will continue to trust You as You give me the skill to show empathy towards others while maintaining my faith in You. In Jesus Name, Amen.


PEARLStoPONDER: There is a fine line between empathy and enabling. Empathy comes from the spirit of compassion while enabling is derived from the spirit of control.


Romans 12:15-- Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Ephesians 4:32-- Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 5:11-- Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

1 Thessalonians 5:14--  And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

1 Corinthians 12:26-- If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Galatians 6:5-- For each will have to bear his own load.

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