"I have a problem with a friend. About seven years ago she was abandoned by an alcoholic husband, who made them both bankrupt at the same time.
I am aware that she has virtually no other friends and really relies on my company and invitations, but we have little in common and she is one of the most irritating people I have ever encountered.
I have a huge guilt complex about her and I keep praying that she will make some kind of a life for herself, and not be waiting at the end of the phone for me to invite her over.
My way of coping with this difficult relationship is to set boundaries, but she is due to retire soon and will want to spend more time with me, so I see difficult times ahead."
In my experience, we tend to be taught in Christian circles a version of Christianity that trains us well in saying ‘yes’, but leaves us under-equipped to say ‘no’ in a guilt-free way. I want to honour you and multitudes of others who in the non-glamour of real life have served needy people at personal expense. There will always be a commissioning for us as ‘little Christs’ to do this. In the words of Jesus: ‘I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was sick and you looked after me… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25). However, it is not the whole truth. When the crowds clamoured, Jesus escaped for some peace and quiet saying to his disciples: ‘“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and let’s get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.’ (Mark 6:31-32). The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 models this principle in more detail to us. He gave what was within his resources and capacity to give: he gave the innkeeper two silver coins he had on his person (v35). This was not digging beyond his resources at that point of time. He then left the needy man. He walked away. He did not say when he would return, just that he would return at some point in order to cover any further costs. This meant he could come back in his own time when he had the resources. The needy man was helped in his point of crisis to get back into being able to fend for himself. He was re-empowered. He was not made dependent – practically or emotionally. I perceive that the Samaritan’s resources were practical (money and physical care) but also time (he had other things to get on to) and emotional (any human being coming across someone covered in blood from an attack is going to be affected themselves). He did not get pulled beyond what he could comfortably give in any of these areas. Jesus sets up the Samaritan’s response as a model of good behaviour for us. The parable tells us as much about what we should not do as what we should. First of all I want to be blunt and say that this lady is not your friend. Friendship involves mutual enjoyment which you do not describe. She is a needy person for whom your resources are to be given with the aim of empowering her to build her own life, without being dependent on you. In addition, your resources are to be given within what you can comfortably give, just like the Good Samaritan. Be specific about what you can give and what you cannot. Communicate clearly. Whatever you say, stick to it and don’t then give more! Also explain that this offer may change in the future as you get older: you may not feel you have the capacity for this forever and you will be honest with her if this becomes too much for you. There is a growth opportunity for you in this which will be part of the healing and wholeness God is working into you. Rather than focusing all your mental energy on worrying about her, start to focus on what God is seeking to strengthen in you. Is it learning from the Good Samaritan to walk away and let go? Is it about the rescuer in you? Is there learning around how to speak the truth more clearly rather than through hints and diversions? Remember, sometimes the deeper love is to say and act ‘no’.