Have you ever had a family member or close friend come to you repeatedly needing just one more, “temporary loan”?
It seems that almost every family has a brother, daughter, cousin or someone who always seems to be "a little short." I’m not talking about a generally responsible person who’s fallen on some hard times due to a job loss, divorce, long term illness or underwater mortgage. That can happen to anyone.
I’m talking about a generally irresponsible, lazy or simply foolish relative who doesn’t save or plan properly. Then, when predictable problems arise they have nothing – no resources and they’ve come repeatedly to various family members for help. And, you know full well this won’t be the last time. What should a Christian do? How does a follower of Jesus live in the tension between these verses?
“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I Timothy 6:8
“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” II Thessalonians 3:6, 10
“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:42
The balance of this blog is a sample letter I helped one family write to some family members (a couple) in an attempt to provide this couple with all the resources they truly needed to dig their way out of their problems – hopefully once and for all, or suffer the consequences. Until this time, there had not been a coordinated, family-wide effort to help them other than providing a few thousand dollars every year for years.
We have four goals in writing this letter to you. The first is to make sure you know how much we love and care for you. We’re not only family, you’re our brother and sister in Christ. We’ve all watched you struggle over the years financially, spiritually and emotionally. The great news is that it’s obvious to all of us that you still love each other very much. When you’re going through these kinds of difficulties, that’s often enough to give us hope.
Secondly, while this letter might feel like we are intruding into your life, we haven’t sought out this role and frankly, it scares us a bit as to what your reaction might be. Each of us has given advice or money in the past, but we feel they’ve been nothing more than Band Aids. For the first time, we would like as a family to present a coherent plan to address a number of elements that may be contributing to your difficulties that makes sense to us. Whether it makes sense to you or not, will have to be determined.
Our third goal is to provide the resources to you to meet your long term goals of being emotionally, spiritually and financially healthy. And our final goal is to present you with a map for achieving that goal. We need to say on the onset, the ideas we are going to be presenting are not an attempt to control your life, but rather to allow you to regain control of your own life. They are recommendations we’ve thoughtfully and prayerfully discussed and hope you will do the same.
Here’s our proposal:
We propose the two of you select two family members from all of us, who will represent the family and help coach you through these options. This way the family speaks with “one” voice.
We’d like the two of you to select a common Christian counselor, a psychologist or psychiatrist, who will help both of you deal with any emotional issues or choices you need to make to be more emotionally and relationally healthy. That counselor does not have to report back to the family about specific issues that are confidential, but the family representatives must be able to discuss with the counselor regarding his/her progress and recommendations. We will pay for this counseling up to $2,000, which should be adequate for 10 to 15 sessions. We will consider helping with additional counseling, if we sense progress.
We would like you to meet with a financial counselor. We have been given names of several people who have been trained by Crown Ministries, who can sit down with you and review your assets and liabilities, your personal finances and help develop a realistic budget and a plan to achieve it. Our hope is that this person would give you some specific recommendations on all these issues. If there is any cost associated with this service, we’d be willing to help up to $1,000.
We strongly recommend that each of you select a personal mentor. This would be someone who you respect spiritually and whose character and heart you trust. Our strong recommendation would be that this person not be someone you might look to, to provide financial help, for it seems to us that it would be very difficult to build trust in a relationship if your mentor believed your motive for meeting was financial.
We recommend that both of you have a complete physical to make sure there are not any health problems that have not gone undetected as you have not had health insurance for so many years. Again, we’ll be happy to help you out up to $500.00 for each of you for this.
We recommend you consider some career counseling. We realize how scary it is to think about changing careers at age 48. However, given your struggles vocationally for so many years, unless you consider that possibility, we are not hopeful. It may very well be that in the course of your meetings with a psychologist or psychiatrist, you might get into some career or vocational testing. But, if not, we are willing to pay for up to $1,000 for this service from a licensed professional.
We would recommend that you get engaged in some physical exercise, perhaps even some basketball or other sports. Membership at the YMCA is $1,080 per year for a couple, plus a joining fee of $150. We are willing to pay for memberships for both of you for one year, if you will use those services.
If you receive these recommendations and respond positively to most of them, we are willing to help with an additional $1,000 per month for a maximum of six months. We’re just assuming that you, (Name), will continue to earn some income from your current job and that (Name), you will be able to work at least half time.
I hope you get a sense for how much we love both of you and are offering you a holistic plan to address a number of areas in your life that hopefully will lead to the life you want and one that pleases God.
Finally, we would like the name of a deacon at your church and permission to talk with them about our proposal. We want them to know that your family is willing to help and that they’re free to talk with us anytime if you approach them with a financial need.
However, if you choose to disregard our proposals and don’t really offer any concrete alternatives of your own, then we are really at a loss as to how to help you, now and in the future. The one solution we all agree which is not acceptable, is lending you $15,000 - $25,000 for your business. Given your current emotional state and past business history, it appears to us that doing that would be throwing good money after bad. However, if we see significant healing and wholeness, confirmed by professionals, that may be a possibility. However, we make no promises at all about any future investment in your business.
We prayerfully await your reply. Please call anyone of us, if you wish to discuss this letter further, but we’ve all agreed that two of us should always be present when you do.
Your family who loves you,
(Signed by all of the people sending this letter.)
The Rest of the Story
The good news is that this couple agreed to almost all of these suggestions and made significant progress. They still struggle and have needed help from time to time. However, the family was impressed enough with their efforts and progress that now when requests come, there is genuine compassion and less frustration. The lesson? Be prayerful and proactive, rather than reactive if your goal is the long term spiritual, physical and emotional health of those you love.
By the way, perhaps God is calling you to convene a meeting of another person’s family who you know to be struggling. That’s how I came to help this family. Sometimes God uses someone outside of the family with a fresh, biblical perspective to help others who’ve simply grown weary with a family member. Take time today to pray about your possible ministry to a family member or a family you know.
Question: What has been your experience handling family members like those I described and what’s worked?