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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Flutter Brutter”

Ever hear of the expression “tough love”? I’m sure you have. For most of us, we never have to see it put into practice. But a lot of us do, and, with the current situation in American society, I imagine more of us will have to do it as time goes on.

The core idea behind “tough love” is doing or (usually more appropriately) not doing something for an individual that may seem to be an act of cruelty or heartlessness, but is really designed for their benefit. It’s not to be confused with codependence, controlling, or manipulative behaviors; although such things may be misconstrued as love when they’re really a form of abuse or even addiction. On the contrary, it’s usually quite the opposite–designed to break one of the aforementioned behaviors.

This episode illustrates a good example. Zephyr Breeze obviously suffered from a lack of self-confidence and sense of self-efficacy–having a fear of failure when trying to do anything independently. As a result, he had grown to the point where he naturally depended on other people to not only do everything for him but had altered his own behavior to be manipulative and intentionally slacking, so that others would grow frustrated with him and do the tasks themselves; thereby absolving him of any need to do things for himself or assert his independence…and consequently allow him to continue his dependent behavior.

Yet this was also an example of codependence. The only way this sort of individual can really get away with this behavior is if they have enablers, and he did in the form of his parents. Unwilling to be faced with the thought of their son being unemployed and homeless with no means to support himself, and not wanting to be “cruel” in that regard, they instead kept bailing him out whenever he quit something. As a result, Zephyr never felt any pressure to make any changes in his life or try to do anything for himself. Furthermore, he could always go back to his parents with the threat of being left alone and homeless and count on them to bail him out. Both parties were involved in a vicious cycle of sustaining each other’s bad choices, which is codependence.

The solution was as Fluttershy pointed out: break the cycle. She had to get her parents to essentially kick Zephyr out, and later she had to kick him out herself. Only then was he forced to try to get by on his own and, as a result, be willing to finish his education to try and become independent without making excuses or worming his way out of responsibility. At that point, Zephyr finally started to learn some personal initiative and independence, and his parents were free to get on with their retirement. But it didn’t come without cost. Zephyr had to be allowed to struggle and fail at eeking out a pathetic living in Everfree Forest first, which, considering the number of dangerous creatures that have been shown to dwell in it in the past, might have represented a threat to life and limb, but also made him miserable enough to want to change.

In my experience, “tough love” is a rather hard subject for a lot of Christians. There’s the fact that many people who became Christians as adults were in bad spots where there was toxic love or even an absence of it. Many of them probably needed someone with compassion and understanding to come into their lives rather than someone who was more strict and took harder lines. Yet even if that’s not the case, one of the big maxims of Christianity is to give people another chance who most would feel do not deserve one, and to forgive our brothers “seventy times seven times” (Matthew 18:22). If we’re dealing with someone who is addicted or has a codependent personality, and who has consequently drawn us into it, all of these represent barriers to wanting to break the cycle as we may feel we aren’t being a true “loving” and “forgiving” Christian if we do that.

Those factors may make tough love difficult, yet what makes it nearly impossible is when the addict or codependent in question is our own loved ones. Then, on top of everything we’ve learned from Christianity, we have the thought of abandoning someone very important to us. The thought that they will suffer discomfort or harm if we cut them off. In the most extreme cases, such as when the individual in question is engaged in drug abuse or sexual misconduct, we might even reasonably fear that the individual could suffer death. Now…when we are faced with the choice of either continuing codependent behavior or having the codependent actually die, we naturally think there’s only one choice to make…and it’s definitely not breaking the cycle.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, when you, or anyone, is a child, they are not responsible for what happens to them. But when you, or anyone, becomes an adult, now they are fully responsible not only for what happens to them but how they respond and the choices they make. If a person is caught in an addictive, unhealthy lifestyle and they know it, and they have reached a point where their life is in danger, as scary and hard as this may be to accept…that individual is there by their choices and no one is responsible for the outcome, no matter how brutal, except for them. I wish I could say that what we fear the most will happen to those people will never happen. I can’t. Yet those same people will never have any reason to stop subjecting themselves to that danger if someone keeps “rescuing” them. No one will ever want to get themselves out of a situation, no matter how self-destructive, that feels perfectly comfortable and has no lasting negative consequences. Only when it becomes too painful to feel “good” anymore is there a personal motivation to get out. Like with Fluttershy, someone has to break off the toxic relationship. While I can attest personally that it is occasionally the addict/codependent themselves, it’s far more likely it will have to be the enabler. After all, they’re the source of the “comfort”.

Second, the Bible encourages reliance and dependence on God, but it never advocates the same reliance and dependence as an excuse for personal inaction and personal irresponsibility. All humans have free will. We have the choice to do good or bad, but also choices in regards to how we live our lives, what we learn, what we hear or refuse to listen to, how we respond to difficulties, how we work, how we raise our families, and all the individual choices we make during the day. That will and capability entitles responsibility on our part. And it did in the Bible. God told Abraham to get up and leave the land of his fathers to become a great nation (Genesis 12:1-4), but he didn’t pick him up and relocate him there. God gave the ancient Israelites the Passover (Exodus 12:1-13) but they had to follow the guidelines to ensure the Angel of Death passed over them. God also didn’t just teleport all the Israelites to Canaan, and say: “There you go. Enjoy.” They had to journey there themselves and then decide for themselves to take it, to either believe in God’s promise or be too scared of their own shortcomings (Joshua 1:1-9, Joshua 24:15).

And when they did possess it, it was their responsibility to keep the commandments of the Law that God gave them. He promised them blessings if they kept it and curses if they did not (Deuteronomy 28). And when the Israelites started to disobey God by following the idols of the surrounding countries, he progressively stopped protecting them from their surrounding nations–ones that they were only able to stand against to begin with because of God. And when they still refused to keep the Law, he let it get worse until they decided to turn around. This wasn’t God so much purposely sending destruction upon Israel as simply standing aside and letting them get what he warned them about if they chose to follow the gods of other nations and all of their following practices. It didn’t make sense to keep having them be the “blessed nation of God” when they weren’t even trying not to sin, let alone keep his commandments. And it was only after the fall of Israel and the Babylonian Exile that they did begin to return to him, after they faced the consequences of their actions (Nehemiah 9).

Likewise, Jesus was certainly loving and forgiving, but He also showed tough love. When others made excuses not to follow Him, He was quite blunt about the choices they had to make (Luke 9:57-62). He freely warned His disciples of the penalties for not heeding His words as well (Matthew 22:1-14, 25:31-46). And when it came to His miracles in the Bible, it was often a result of the person coming to Him first, of wanting “to be made well” (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 1:40-42, 7:24-30, Luke 19:1-10, Luke 7:36-50). He was indeed approachable by and a friend to the outcasts of His society, but it was the outcasts that flocked to Him first. They were looking for repentance and redemption, or wanted to do so after listening to Him preaching. Even in Jesus’ miracles, and especially in our own choice whether or not to accept Jesus Christ’s offer of Salvation, there is an element of conscious action on our part. A responsibility that Jesus doesn’t allow us to shy away from.

It’s also fairly obvious that if God was to immediately provide us with food, clothing, and shelter just from us sitting around and praying, it wouldn’t be long before we’d stop being human and start being idle sheep. Not only would we see no need to go out in the world to reach other people, we’d see no reason to do anything for or with anyone period. And if we are in a habitual sin and suffering sever consequences for it and praying to God for deliverance, it would also not be responsible of God to spare us the consequence so that we could go on sinning and destroying ourselves and potentially others.

As someone who has had experiences with needing to exercise “tough love” before, my encouragement to anyone who finds themselves in a situation like this episode (or worse) is to try and see the situation as God does. God loves us all unconditionally more than we’ll ever know…and it’s because he loves us so much that he won’t let us stay in a cycle of abuse or dependence by making it “easy on us”. May we have the prudence, bravery, and faith to do the same.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, in all the times of my life I needed a change or to leave my situation, I thank you for making it ‘uncomfortable’ and unpleasant to the point of driving me out, even if I didn’t appreciate it at the time. If I find myself trapped in a cycle of dependence, please give me the wisdom, prudence, bravery, and, above all, the faith to do what needs to be done and to depend on you to take care of the rest. Let my trust in you be strong enough to make that bold step of faith. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”