Perhaps someone voluntarily gave you one of their organs. Now you’re able to go on living while they are having complications trying to recover from the operation.
Perhaps someone jumped in front of a bullet or knife to save you. Now they are either dead or crippled for life and you’re able to go on just as you were.
Perhaps someone volunteered to take the rap for a bad thing you did. Now they are in massive debt or clocking time in jail or dealing with a ruined reputation while you’re enjoying opportunities you couldn’t have gained without their help.
When other people sacrifice themselves on our behalf, what do we owe them in return? And what new rights do they gain over us? Your soul is the part of you that cares about the morality of your actions. Even if you think religions are dumb, God is a fairy tale, and we’re all the freak result of random cells colliding, you still have a core need to be able to spiritually approve of your own behavior. So don’t fall into the trap of minimizing this aspect of yourself, because it is soul angst that causes many people to get trapped in a perpetual state of misery after receiving epic help from another human.
If your human helper hasn’t acted yet, but you’re planning to receive help from them in the near future, thinking about the issues I’m about to explain can help you prepare your soul to process your upcoming aid in a healthy way. If you’ve already received help and are now drowning in anxiety, guilt, or depression, this post might help you pinpoint the beliefs that are dragging you down. So let’s get into it.
The Power of Life & Death
Humans do not have the power over life and death. Many of us think we do, because we view our actions through a very biased filter, conveniently ignoring all of the times that things don’t go according to plan. The common belief among humans is that we could kill each other at anytime if we just behaved in certain ways. Well, no, this isn’t the case. Countless attempts to murder others and commit suicide are botched every single day. Some failures seem logical even though they were unexpected, like when the shooter’s gun jams on him. But then there are the folks who survive leaps from high places or end up getting their stomachs pumped before all the poison they swallowed can kill them off. Sometimes the most learned doctors and surgeons are left shaking their heads in bewilderment when a patient survives what should have been fatal injuries. Even when we try to abort babies in the womb, we still end up with ones that just won’t die. And as for the theory that we can create life anytime we feel like it–there are scores of heartbroken couples struggling with infertility who could testify to what a crock that claim is. Not only are we are unable to force conception to happen exactly when we want, we are also incapable of stopping it from happening. How many babies get conceived unintentionally or in spite of multiple forms birth control being in place? As for the power to extend life, if we had that power, there would be no such thing as terminal illness or fatal accidents. We wouldn’t wake up to find our babies dead in their cribs, we wouldn’t lose patients on operating tables, and we wouldn’t stand by helplessly while our loved ones collapse in front of us. The power to create, extend, and destroy life simply isn’t within human grasp. We tell ourselves that it is, but it’s not, and this is a critical point to understand whenever you are grappling with life and death issues.
The same non-human Being who brought you into existence and decided when you would be born is the only One with the power to control when and how you will die. It so happens that this Being is a very possessive Character who refuses to share His power with others. You don’t need to subscribe to a particular religion to understand these vital points, but you do need to understand that there is Someone who is purposefully controlling death so that you will understand how powerless your human savior actually is. It’s all fine and well for someone to try to help you, but with humans, trying is all we can ever do. We never make the desired outcome happen. And because we do not possess the power to extend a life, we cannot take credit for doing so. Once we can’t claim credit, we can’t claim any rights.
Now the Being who made you does have the power to extend or cut off your life, He does claim the credit for saving you, and He does claim to have all kinds of rights over you. But contrary to what many religions say, it’s not on you to somehow figure out who that Being is. God takes responsibility for introducing Himself to us when He’s good and ready to do so, and until God introduces Himself to you, He doesn’t expect you to know who He is. But while you might not have encountered God personally yet, you do need to understand that He is out there somewhere and that He claims to have all rights over you. As a creature that God created, you are quite literally God’s property. So when another human comes along claiming to own you, they are wrong. Other people might agree with that claim, but group agreement doesn’t prove anything. Twenty people could call an apple an orange and their false declarations won’t change the nature of the fruit. In the same way, your human savior can try to claim all kinds of rights over you, but they will be basing all of those claims on the assumption that they actually saved your life. Only they didn’t, because it is quite impossible for humans to save each other.
Understanding Belief Chains
Now suppose one day you make this cute little rock tower:
Then I come along and try to take the bottom two rocks away without causing the whole tower to collapse. It can’t be done, can it? In the same way, many of the claims human make cannot stand up unless they are properly supported by other facts. Let’s take your savior’s claim that they now have the right to dictate how you live the life that they gave you. What kinds of supporting beliefs must exist before that final claim can be accepted as true?
So much unnecessary angst happens in this world because people do not take the time to think critically. Critical thinking begins with you asking: “If this must be true, what else must be true?” In our stack of stones above, before the top blue stone can be true, all of the grey stones must be true as well. If you take away any of the grey stones, the blue stone falls down.
LEO & NOAH
When Leo was in his early twenties, he came down with a fatal kidney infection and doctors said he would be dead within a month if no donor could be found. His older brother Noah rushed to get tested, and when it turned out he was a donor match, he gladly donated one of his kidneys to save Leo’s life. The operation was a success, and Leo’s health rapidly improved. But Noah developed complications from the surgery and ended up with permanent health problems that grew steadily worse as time went on. Every time Noah’s symptoms worsened, Leo was the first to be informed. In fact, every time the brothers talked–which was almost daily–Noah found a way to bring up the great sacrifice that he made.
Five years after the operation, Noah was turned down from his dream job due to the health problems that he was struggling with. Crushed by the lost opportunity, Noah became increasingly bitter, and increasingly judgmental about the choices his brother was making. When Leo wanted to drop out of college, Noah shamed him into finishing, insisting that Leo owed it to him to make the most out of the life his brother had made possible. When Leo began dating a woman that Noah didn’t approve of, Noah hassled his brother into ending the relationship. When Noah’s wife left him, claiming that he was impossible to live with, Noah blamed Leo. “My marriage is over because my wife found my medical problems too much to deal with–problems I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t saved your life.”
The brothers’ parents consistently take Noah’s side whenever Leo complains that his brother is being too controlling. “You do owe him a debt for life,” their mother says. “Look at all of the happiness he has lost out on because he sacrificed it all for you. Your life is only possible because of what he did, so you owe it to him to make your life doubly successful.”
So is she right? Is Leo morally responsible for all of the crummy things that have happened to his brother since the surgery? Let’s make another stack of stones.
What do you think about this stack? Do any of those grey stones sound a bit fishy? The theory that Noah has the power to extend Leo’s life is a complete crock, as is the theory that Leo is responsible for how Noah’s body responded to surgery. And yet what happens if we remove those two bottom stones? The rest of the claims fall down, don’t they? Do you see why it is critical to think beyond the surface claims your savior and their associates are making about you? When you dig deeper, you will often discover that there are some pretty obnoxious and absurd assumptions being made that must be true before you can really accept their surface claim as valid.
So what happens when you don’t dig deep? If you don’t acknowledge the existence of the grey stones, does that mean they won’t affect you? Unfortunately, no. If you accept the blue stone, you will automatically accept all the grey ones as well. It’s as if the stones have all been glued together, so that you can’t pick up the top one without getting stuck with the rest as well.
Spiritual trauma occurs when your soul accepts beliefs which it finds unbearable to live with. Often in cases of spiritual trauma, the really problematic beliefs are not the ones the traumatized person is consciously focused on. When Leo finally talks to a counselor about the stress he’s under, he says “I’m upset because my brother is trying to control my life and he won’t stop harping on the fact that he gave me his kidney.” This is how Leo presents his distress, but the things that are really bothering him are the grey stones. Without realizing it, Leo has accepted that his brother is far more powerful than Noah actually is. Leo really believes that Noah saved his life when all Noah did was give up an organ. Humans do not have the power over life and death. Only God has that power, yet here Leo is allowing his twit of a brother to play the role of God in his life. Not only does Leo view his life as Noah’s property, he has also accepted Noah’s right to be his moral judge. No, no, no, this is another role which belongs to God alone.
You are the property of the God who made you and He is the One you are accountable to for how you live your life. If you don’t yet know God, there’s no need to stress over the idea of Him judging you, because He is extremely easy to succeed with. God isn’t interested in tricking you into damnation, nor does He expect you to somehow read His Divine mind and guess what He expects of you. When God wants something from you, He makes that very clear. He also only demands things from you that He knows you can actually give Him (see How God Judges You vs. How Humans Judge You (Chart)).
Being accountable to God doesn’t have to be the scary thing people make it out to be. But correctly identifying who your Judge is is vital to protecting your soul from trauma. Once you start assigning humans roles in your life that belong to God alone, you set yourself up for all kinds of stress because humans are quite impossible to please.
A single heroic or giving act does not make a man morph into a selfless icon of morality and noble character. Your human savior might have done something truly wonderful for you, but that doesn’t mean you should suspend all judgment of their behavior and never draw boundaries in your relationship with them. All humans are self-serving by nature, and we basically keep each other in check by having our selfish agendas clash. When one person takes an attitude of “your wish is my command”, the power in the relationship quickly swings out of balance and things become abusive. When you understand that your non-human Creator is the only One who is authorized to pass judgment on you, you are going to be much more guarded about just accepting someone else’s moral assessment of you. Your savior might not like your choice of profession or style of living or personal priorities. Fine, they can have an opinion, but an opinion is all it is. Until God expresses a negative view of what you’re doing, other people’s assessments of you should be taken for what they are: mere opinions, which may or may not be worth acting on. Before you decide to make big changes to what you’re doing, you should ask your actual Judge what He thinks of the criticism you’re receiving.
Sometimes help comes with a price tag attached. When someone offers to help you in return for some form of compensation, you are only obligated to hold up your end of the deal. In these cases, you need to be very cautious about what you agree to. If your helper is making unreasonable demands, you need to consider their offer of help invalid, because it really isn’t an offer to help–it’s more like a trap that you’re being pressured to step into.
When no expectations are voiced in the beginning, they often surface later on, with helpers suddenly revealing a long list of things that they now expect from you. Well, when these things were not voiced in the beginning, the helper is out of luck. Do not act like you are a bound to a contract when no contract actually existed. It is the responsibility of your helper to make it clear up front when they want compensation. Laying some guilt trip on you after the fact is just manipulative behavior and you need to respond with appropriate boundaries.
Now certainly it’s nice when we all help each other, and it’s quite natural to want to do something nice for someone who has helped you in the past. Just make sure your motivations are appropriate and that you’re not acting out of guilt.
When you decide to do something nice for someone, that is your choice. If things don’t work out as you’d hoped, that’s your mess to deal with. Trying to blame others for your choices and your messes is inappropriate. Too often in rescue situations, human helpers start acting entitled after the good deed is done, and the receiver encourages their inappropriate attitude instead of immediately rejecting it.
Don’t agree to pay for help unless the form of payment being requested feels reasonable to your soul and the full payment can be delivered in a relatively short time period. You should never agree to let someone control your behavior, meddle in your personal relationships, or force you to associate with them in ways that you’re not comfortable with. “I’ll help you if you marry me,” is an obnoxious bargain to propose and should be immediately rejected. “I’ll help you if you get your sister to date me,” or “I’ll help you if we can be friends,” are all inappropriate proposals that you should refuse to accept. Trying to use someone’s desperateness to gain power over them is just a form of abuse. You’re not doing yourself any favors by giving in to someone who is being so clear about their shady motivations.
The fact that someone chooses to help you in a big way does not mean you are now morally obligated to treat them like your best friend. Many helpers and receivers are simply incompatible relationship partners. While you should certainly be receptive to the possibility of a new friendship forming due to your shared experience, you also need to give yourself permission to terminate the relationship if things don’t work out. Remaining in dysfunctional relationships only harms both partners.
People have many reasons for playing the hero, and many of those reasons are unhealthy. Is it on you to make sure your helper’s motivations are healthy before you allow them to help you? No, it’s really not. If you are already in a relationship with your helper and you want that relationship to continue after the crisis passes, it can be a wise move to have a heart-to-heart conversation where you give your friend permission to not help you if they aren’t really comfortable doing so. Friends and family members can easily feel coerced into helping you in ways that they really aren’t comfortable with. The fact that your sister is your biological sibling doesn’t give you a right to her internal organs. If she doesn’t want to give up a piece of her body to help yours function better, she’s well within her rights to say “no” and if you are a jerk about it, you are the one in the wrong.
At the end of the day, we are each responsible for ourselves. If someone overextends themselves and helps you in ways that they later regret, that is not your responsibility. You can certainly be sympathetic, but don’t accept responsibility for a decision that they made. Taking responsibility for everyone’s choices is just going to burn you out and cause you to lose sight of what your priorities should be. In life we often benefit from the mistakes and issues of others. This isn’t something to celebrate, but it’s an unavoidable part of life. When God chooses to deliver help to you through a helper who later regrets being involved, you need to press forward in using the help you received in a way that will please the only Judge you are accountable to. You also need to give credit where it is due: to God, not to the human He chose to work through.
Help Is Not Required
When we are in desperate need, we often fall into the mentality that others owe it to us to go out of their way to help us. But, no, they really don’t. We are all accountable to the same Creator, and your friends and relations should be following God’s leading when it comes to offering you their help. Very few of us are willing to acknowledge how often God tells people not to rush in and play hero, but to back off and let Him handle things. When someone withholds help from you, they might be following God’s leading, in which case you are totally out of line to accuse them of doing wrong. In other cases, people withhold help due to their own issues and fears. We all have issues, and we all want our personal hangups to be respected by others. When all of the humans you know are refusing to help you, you need to direct your frustration at God and ask Him for guidance instead of acting like the world owes you.
Crisis situations bring the best and worst out of humans, and their best is truly beautiful. Countless lives are touched and inspired by a single act of sacrificial help. It’s a wonderful thing to help our fellow humans and to share the blessings and resources that God has given us. But while we are helping and being helped, we need to keep our focus on the God who is orchestrating it all behind the scenes. By remembering that He is the One ultimately responsible for life, death, illness and recovery, we will avoid forming harmful beliefs about our human saviors.
For more about God’s involvement in our problems, see It’s Personal: Why God Brings Problems Into Your Life.
For more about your soul, see What Is The Soul?
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