Sometimes, I slit my own wrist to give someone else a transfusion. I even offer my neck to vampires to be nourished by my life’s blood. The problem is that I only have a limited supply. You too might be hurting yourself to help others. So, don’t feed the vampires.
We’ve all heard the oxygen mask analogy so many times that it’s gotten old and tired. “I know, I know,” my clients tell me when I counsel them. They say, “I’ve got to put the oxygen mask on myself before helping someone else.” It’s a good metaphor, but it’s overused. When our great figures of speech become blasé, it’s time to create new ones. Hence my bloody talk today.
How Much Should We Give?
Our churches teach us to love one another sacrificially. Go the extra mile. Give away your coat. We’re taught the stories of the widow’s mite and the good Samaritan. Perhaps those of us in helping professions are more guilty of it than others, giving so much that we end up hurting ourselves. Click here to read my article, “Pastors: When the Extra Mile Turns Into a Marathon.” But Jesus gave a clear standard for how much believers should give, and when to stop giving. If you feel like you have the winter blues, it might not be the season. It might just be that you’re completely tapped out.
First You Have to Love Yourself
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said, hinting that first that you have to love yourself. Only when you take care of yourself will you be able to take care of others. Jesus’s example of the widow’s mite showed someone giving to God out of devotion to God—not letting other people bleed her dry. Jesus’ command to go the extra mile was about being extra helpful—not running a marathon without training. And giving your extra coat to someone who has none is entirely different from giving the shirt off your back if you only have one shirt. Jesus never calls us to give beyond our capacity. Even the boy who gave his five loaves and two fish knew that he wasn’t going to starve to death by giving it away. Loving yourself and taking care of yourself means not overdoing your willingness to help.
Most of us have people in our lives who are secret vampires. They might not suck the literal blood from you, but they take your energy, demand your money, require your attention, and steal your joy. At first, you don’t mind giving a little to help a friend or relative. But pretty soon your offering becomes a tithe, and your tithe becomes your all. These vampires will bleed you dry, and leave you lifeless.
Feeding Vampires Isn’t Charity – It’s Enabling.
The more you offer your veins to vampires, the more you teach them it’s okay to feed on other people. Then they become dependent on that constant supply. That dependency makes them less likely to ever realize their blood-sucking problem. If you never confront them about their behavior, then they don’t realize how much they are leeching off of others. When you lack boundaries, it might seem good to you, like you are constantly willing to be helpful. Instead, your boundarylessness hurts both you and them. It also hurts all the other victims in the life of that vampire.
Setting Proper Boundaries
For you, setting proper boundaries might look like limiting the amount of time and attention you give to someone. Or telling them that you’re not able to support them with the money that you had been giving them. It might mean that they have to move out of your house, get their own vehicle, or find their own job. It’s great to help people for a time, but eventually, you realize that they are just using you. It dawns on you that you are hurting yourself by helping them.
Unfortunately, Christian culture sometimes teaches unhealthy boundaries. Some of Jesus’ own words get twisted to support the idea that you have to keep on giving and enabling, no matter what. For example, the apostle Paul said that we should put others before ourselves or consider them better than ourselves. He took Jesus’ words too far. Because when Jesus said that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, he was teaching good self-esteem and proper boundaries.
Don’t Feed the Vampires!
The oxygen mask analogy is a good one. Nothing wrong with it. But I’ve had more success communicating the need for self-care before caring for others by talking about vampires. Or by telling people that they don’t need to slit their own wrists to give someone a transfusion. Sure, all the bloody language can be a bit revolting. But that’s the point. We should be revolted by the idea of letting others bleed us dry. So, if you have people in your life who really suck, maybe it’s time staunch the bleeding. Don’t feed the vampires!