The Importance of Tough Love

The term “tough love” became popular in 1968 when its attributes were discussed by Bill Milliken in his book “Tough Love”. These words became popular again in the 1980’s when David and Phyllis York developed a set of strategies for employing tough love. It arose from the needs of those coping with the addictions of people they loved. During these two eras, parents were surprised to learn that their children were using drugs and alcohol, and initially covered the transgressions of the child. But as children fell further into their addiction and its requirements and lost touch with what they had been taught about Biblical principles, many parents recognized the need to intervene. Over time, studies were conducted and books written about how to overcome these addictions, and strategies were developed for those who sought help. Christians understood that indifferent disregard for right and wrong would damage one’s soul salvation and also sought assistance from their church by requesting counseling and intervention from their ministers.

As the behaviors of the addicted were further studied, the passive behavior of those who wanted to help was also studied and brought forth astounding information. Studies demonstrated that many of those who interacted with someone with an addiction had fallen into the trap of wanting to be their “friend”, needing to avoid confrontation, and unconsciously seeking and requiring approval.

It became clear that this type of parenting and friendship contributed to the addiction of those they sought to help, and was thus proclaimed to be an “enabling” personality. This personality is one where the enabler “feels good” by believing they are providing love when they forgive, understand, and champion the underdog. Many also felt that this behavior supported and followed biblical precepts. Yet they were actually helping themselves rather than the addicted because the undying devotion and adulation of those they enabled fed their personal needs and created a co-dependency. The enabler had his or her needs met and the addicted existed in a relationship that comfortably contributed to their behavior. As long as the addicted had their enabling devices in place, they could deny that what they did was wrong. Newer studies determined that co-dependency is also an addiction. Further, that the enabler has a fear of abandonment and becomes addicted to being needed and appreciated for their courage in standing up for others. They are often however, unconsciously acting out of an emotional wound or programming from childhood.

Real love however, is not selfish. It does not look for love in return. It looks for the well being of others and therefore to their relationship with God. Real love is willing to lose someone’s adulation to help them understand what holds them back from being found worthy. Real love is supporting someone through their addiction without condoning it. From a Christian perspective, both the addicted and enabling personalities need to be addressed. The captivity these behaviors produce must be acknowledged and broken. Destructive behavior is any behavior that is or results in displeasing God. And, anyone who causes or enables the stumbling of another is rebuked in scripture. Matthew 18:6-7 tells us, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!”

Further into this chapter God explains that He does not want these sheep to be lost, but that if an offense exists it must be “plucked out”. It also tells us that the “church” must explain their fault and help them overcome. Thus by pretending that the “fault” is acceptable because it is an addiction is clearly ungodly and contributes to both parties failing to keep God’s statutes. Luke 17:1 also addresses this issue and says, “….offenses will come; but woe unto him, through whom they come.”

Throughout scripture God tells us to rebuke the sinner, to overcome sin, and to seek forgiveness. It also teaches that God looks for what lives in our heart, for our striving and not at our failures. As we read about the sins of our forefathers and the “tendencies” one might have for any addiction, we know that God understands the struggle involved. God promises the strength to overcome, demonstrates that these spirits can be made to leave and promises His grace for those who strive. His grace is extended to those who continue to fail but who have acknowledged their sin, hate their sin because of their love for God, and strive to the best of their ability to overcome it.

Nowhere in scripture does it say that God simply “excuses” sin or allows us to ignore, excuse or justify it. Sin is sin, addiction or not, and can keep us from being found worthy. However, God forgives our sin and teaches us to forgive, not to judge, to love our brethren and bear their burdens. Romans 1:24 tells us “Wherefore God also gave them up for uncleaness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves. Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and served and worshipped the creature more than the Creator….”

Tough love offers a set of strategies that guide a parent or friend in setting boundaries with those they want to help. These include love, support, longsuffering, patience, and all the fruits of the spirit yet still rebuke and teach about the sin. This helps enablers move from their Adam-like fallibility of selfish need to the Christ-like nature that teaches to “go and sin no more”. This also provides the sinner with help but never condones their sin and in fact, reminds them of God’s help and their free will to choose to fight their sin or lose their soul salvation. Harsh words, but true.

2 Timothy 4:2-4 tells us “Preach the word: be instant in season out of season: reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap unto themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” Sadly, the world in which we live has become a world of enablers under the guise of “political correctness”. Many are afraid to stand against sin and many have such a strong need to be admired for their tolerance that they unknowingly enable so they can feel noble, loved, appreciated and needed. Further, justification reigns in today’s world and causes even Christians to tell themselves that they must never judge, therefore must support those who cannot stop their sin. This however is enabling and while real love does not judge or condemn, it does recognize sin and rebuke it with gentleness, kindness and by example. All Christians, enabler or not, must learn how to stand strong for Biblical principles and reach out to teach those principles making no excuses for them. Offering tough love does not mean being cruel. The real cruelty is to enable and condone the sin, and thus mislead those who come to us for support.

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