Forgiveness or Enabling?

Straight Talk

The Question

My 37-year-old sister was recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. My mother and I had made this diagnosis years ago but we are not professionals. Regardless, my sister completely denies the official diagnosis and continues to leech my parents emotionally and financially. She has drained them and aged them.

In Christian terms, we forgive others as God forgives us and we forgive others for our benefit, not theirs. At what point does our forgiveness turn into ENABLING? What does the Bible say about that? Our entire family has logged more therapy time than I can count. Tough love and counseling hasn’t worked. Medication only works when she takes it. Does this go on and on until Jesus calls us home?

– Lori from Unknown City

The Answer
Part 1: Is enabling in the Bible?
Part 2: What part forgiveness?

Is enabling in the Bible? (Part 1)

I sense your deep desperation and frustration, especially at the end of your email. Only you and your parents know all that you have been through—how exhausted you are without any hope of change. Nothing that I can say will bring an end to this long trial any sooner. Only on the other side of it will you know HOW you got through it and how long it ultimately took.

The thing is, this is more a psychology question than a spiritual one. If it were not for the fact that you asked: “what does the Bible say about that” it would be better for me to defer since I am not trained in psychology. So—from a biblical perspective, how can this question be approached? Does the Bible say anything at all about ENABLING?

The Bible doesn’t use the word, certainly not in the modern psychological sense. Psychology speaks of enabling as making it easy and possible and even helping a person to stay in an unhealthy condition such as addiction by taking responsibility for their actions or stepping in so they don’t reap what they sow.

Even though the Bible doesn’t use that word, it says a great deal about the opposite concept: personal responsibility. Moreover, I notice that Jesus never imposed his solutions on anyone, even if it meant they went away empty handed. Remember the rich young ruler who went away sad because he could not accept the Savior’s antidote for his love of possessions? (See Luke 18:18-24) Jesus didn’t plead with him or force him under protective custody; rather he let the man exercise his free will and walk. Jesus was no enabler!

I notice backup in the epistles for the concept of personal responsibility. Romans 14:12 says, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” Then there is Galatians 6:5, “For each one will bear his own load.” How about 2 Thessalonians 3:10 which states, “…if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” Wow! Pretty strict rule I would say.

So I think what the Bible says about enabling is that we do no real favors to a person by being an enabler to them because in the end God will judge them alone. Mom or dad or sister or spouse will not stand beside them before God and excuse them or ask for more chances. The question regarding your sister is to what extent is she responsible for herself? That depends on how debilitated she actually is and to what extent she is capable of being responsible for her own life and actions. Only the Lord knows.

What part forgiveness? (Part 2)

You also asked at what point forgiveness turns into enabling? I think it is at the point that guilt joins the party. Really, forgiveness shouldn’t be paired with enabling at all. Forgiveness should release both parties in an offense. When we feel obligated to someone through guilt it usually leads to resentment and a vicious cycle of forgiveness, guilt, resentment—forgiveness, guilt, resentment. It’s tough to break it and be free.

If you or your parents feel responsible for your sister’s condition I can see where enabling could easily take hold. Resist and take back any ground gained. You can do that by proclaiming what is true from God’s Word as it pertains to this situation. At first it might be difficult because bad mind patterns are often hard to break. But it can be done.

We are told to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Romans 12:2) Renewing our mind means to bring it into conformity with God’s mind in every area of life. Searching scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit can reveal exactly what should be claimed and spoken out so new Biblical mind patterns can form.

Remember, God still has a plan for your sister’s life. You can certainly declare this for her: “’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah 20:11) Here’s another one from Jeremiah that can be used for both your sister and yourselves: “’For I will restore you to health and I will heal you of your wounds,’ declares the Lord.’” (Jeremiah 30:17)

I don’t know how long your trial will last. It WILL end at some point. As you struggle and pray and wait the only thing I can promise you for sure is this: “’My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9)