What Makes Helping People So Challenging? (And What To Do About It)

Relationships and communication are the foundation to healthy living. Without it, we don’t have churches, business or even families. God created these connections to be the conduit by which we would understand how to process our relationship with Him better. The invisible God desire’s to make Himself visible through healthy relationships that operate in a redemptive way; reconciling people to God and to each other.

But let’s face it. Relationship work is hard! In fact, it seems that even though society is becoming technologically smarter, we are becoming less intelligent relationally. As part of what I do to serve people, I tend to see some of the harder situations. But overall, it seems the pulse of relational health shows us that heart surgery is needed now more than ever.

What’s more concerning, is that dysfunction can rise to epic levels in the church just as much as everywhere else. This should not be so!

Those who have responded to the call of God in helping others, find themselves rolling up their sleeves, because the brokenness in today’s world is thick. Helping others is hard work. Many people just run from it. Some literally run and move where they live to be away from people. If you’re reading this, odds are you have been tempted to build a ranch in Montana to avoid dealing with people issues.

I have found these four common reasons helping other people can be challenging. If we don’t address these issues in our own life, it will make it hard for other believers to walk through transformation with us. The relationship will backfire and growth possibilities will be halted.

1. The “Twisties.”

We rarely hear what is actually being said. We listen with some sort of filter. Unfortunately, that filter can be filled with a lot of toxicity, keeping us from hearing any thing near to what is actually being said.

Ever found yourself spinning in circles in conversation with someone you are helping? Texting for hours, emailing for days, talking in person or on the phone for hours, but never getting anywhere? That’s the sign the “twisties” are in operation. They are unable to hear what you are saying or the heart you have to restore. They hear from a twisted posture that keeps them defensive.

What keeps these twisted filter in play? Two main strongholds…rejection and accusation. Rejection possess the ground of unhealed hurts in the person’s life. Accusation shoots the arrows at everyone’s intentions. If someone does not deal with their rejection issues, they will eventually make the person helping them the enemy. Accusation will judge the person’s motives negatively and call out things against them.

When this is in play and not ministered to, the person helping will get drained, frustrated and burned out. That’s why I encourage every church and organization to go through teachings on rejection strongholds. Otherwise they will approach each other from a broken filter, so no helpful communication occurs and growth is stunted.

2. Not Willing to Deal with Past Hurt.

Whatever unhealed pain we have from the past will eventually spill out onto the people in our lives today. Most of our irritation in relationship today has nothing to do with the person in mind, but an unresolved issue with someone in the past.

When I was in pastoral work, there were numbers of people that would come into the church with a hostile position towards me. I had really just met them, but they had this critical attitude towards me already. I knew instantly that there was hurt form a previous pastor that has not been healed and addressed. When we are mad our spouse, it usually goes back to a pain issues with the opposite sex in our history, usually leading back to mom and dad.

Quite often, we take our hurt and we make it very black and white. We have a great journey that ended with some rough relationship departures, and we end up saying the whole experience was terrible. We end a marriage of 20 years than went sour and we see the whole marriage as being a complete failure. We look at old friendships that moved into new directions and see them as completely bad friends.

Black a white thinking is a sign of an unhealed perspective in relationships. If you look back at people as being 100% against you all the time or 100% evil in every step they took, there is probably some unhealed pain that needs to be addressed. I am careful to label anyone as a enemy, because that solidifies a hurt that cannot be healed effectively.

3. Too many don’t want honest conversation.

A startling realization occurs when you don’t have a honest relationship with someone. Many times its because the person cannot handle the truth and honest interactions. This is difficult, because a lot of times we do not know how to have honest conversations without accusing. People think they are being helpful by being honest, but they are just blasting people with accusation. Honesty needs to be handled with care.

Honest conversations bring an invitation to connect at a deeper place of trust, who show one another to be trustworthy in handling each other’s heart. When helping someone, its important to establish trust and love, so safety can be present. But even when doing that, you can still have struggles in being able to have honest conversations with people.

4. They want you to rescue them.

Beware when someone puts a superman cape on you, where they want you to rescue them from their dilemmas, without them taking responsibility for change. Helping someone is useless if they do not want to do the work. You can find our rather quickly if the person is willing to do whatever it takes to grow, or if they are putting the pressure on you for their growth.

So What Do We Do?

1. Set great boundaries.

The most loving and healthy people often have the most clear boundaries in their life. They don’t do it in anger or coldness. These boundaries flow naturally. Boundaries are not emotional walls, but healthy setups so that the relationship can flourish effectively.

Boundary setting is actually a powerful expression of love. But most people do not see it that way. This is because so many were not disciplined properly as children, so when someone sets boundaries, they consider it an unloving act. When it reality, those boundaries allow for love to flourish very effectively. I have had the best relationships with those who responded well to boundaries.

2. Model a life that grows in being healed.

You don’t have to look perfect to help others. In fact, ministering out of a perfect looking life is not the greatest thing in the Kingdom of God. God uses weak people all the time, so give up trying to have a persona that is not consistent with our journey.

Give people an invitation to work on issues of their heart by demonstrating that journey yourself. Be a person who walks it out and let God bring people to you that you can share your story to

3. Ask people to give you a fresh start.

Sometimes I have to literally ask the person, “We are just getting to know one another. Can we start fresh?” I want to establish off the jump that I am not their enemy and I am here to help. I also want to help remove any negative filters from past relationships, that I may resemble and could be placed on me.

Sometimes I get a fresh start by getting permission to look at some ways they discern things. Many times people live with a “God told me” mindset on past decisions, where they may not have heard perfectly. This is ok. But if I can get permission, there may be some amazing course corrections we can make if we stop stamping “God told me” onto everything we have done.

It makes it challenging to move forward if the past is covered with “God told me.” You may not have heard from God perfectly. its ok. none of us do. let’s grow together in this. I think today people put such pressure on hearing from God just right, that we feel like failures if we miss it. Remember, we see through a glass dimly. (1 Cor 13) I love to release people of the pressure of having to hear from God perfectly. This helps to start us on a better track together.

4. Model healthy interactions.

When people communicate with you in 911 fashion, help them by your response to stabilize the dynamic. Redirect toxic thinking towards what a healthy perspective can be. Show in your interactions with them what a healthy back and forth can be.

If you don’t know how to do this, find someone who does and learn from them.

5. Invite them into honest conversations.

Show people that when maneuvering through tough subjects or topics, your relationship dynamic has not changed. Sometimes people need to see that because you know about some of their garbage, you will not throw them out with their garbage.

Show that you can have challenging conversations and not get goofy. People need to feel safe in processing their junk. So be honest–model that. But be extremely loving and gracious, because many people have not had that modeled in their life.

6. Get codependency out of your life!

If you play to people’s demands and expectations, you may be feeding the codependency monster. If working with people fills a validation need, be careful. Thats a sign your affirmation is coming from the wrong source. Be available to help, but do not get caught up in the demands of others.

7. Don’t take their sin into your own life.

When things get rough, people can blame you and put extra burden on you. If not careful, you can walk away blaming yourself. I did this often. When someone didn’t breakthrough and got angry with me, I took the blame on and tried harder to find ways to “fix” things. God convicted me on this. I realized that I am not the superhero. Jesus is. I need to point people to His work and be a vessel.

It is very common that people who minister to others can end up taking the sin of others into their own being. Defilement from accusations and guilt ridden words cause unnecessary burdens to fester.

Release those burdens to God your Father. You are not the reason nor the solution to other people’s pain and problems. I have found it important to be present and 100% invested in helping, but kicking the dust off is important. My coach in high school taught me to leave it all on the court. The same occurs in life. Don’t carry other people’s stuff. At the end of the day, we each have to carry our own load.

8. Don’t give up on helping people.

If you have helped people for any extended period of time like I have, you’ve certainly had the thought of packing up and leaving the work of helping people behind. Some pastors have said, “I would love church if there were no people in it,” simply because the pain of people not dealing with their own brokenness affects those who are trying to help.

I had this thought that I believe God spoke to my heart. “Mark, are you willing to help a broken body of Christ that may at times bite you back?” I needed to answer that question up front, otherwise my response would be dictated by how nice people were.

So I make it my aim to let God heal me continually. People are not always nice. The devil has easy access to people. But this should never drive us to isolation, seclusion or escape. We are the children of God, called to overthrow the works of the devil. And that often means loving the hell right out of people. It is always worth it in the end, because loving people always wins. Getting “taking out” is what exactly what satan would want and I do not plan on fulfilling his agenda.

If you get hurt, you have a Father in heaven who is ready to heal. Position yourself for it. Receive it. Then get back in the game. Be available for who God wants to show Himself to. I know He’s love to use you.

Question: This post may have brought up more questions than answers. What other issues do you think contribute to making helping others hard? What do suggest to do about it?