If you have ever had a loved one who struggled with addiction problems, you’ve likely heard the word “enabler” used many times and probably have had someone in the family accuse you of being one. There is no question that a family member can become an enabler. But what does it mean to be an enabler and what is the difference in enabling and encouraging or just helping a person? The enabler is one who makes it easier for the addict to hide what they are doing and thus continue the lifestyle they have chosen. If a family member of an addict lies about where the addict is and what they are doing to help them keep their job or stay in school they are being an enabler. If we make excuses for the addict that doesn’t face the problem that is really there then we are enabling. If we keep giving money to the addict when we know it is being misused and often for the purpose of purchasing more drugs then we are an enabler.
There are all kinds of ways that a family member may be helpful and encouraging to the person with addiction problems or other problems for that matter that aren’t enabling. When we refuse to make excuses for failure but always offer forgiveness and assistance to do right we are being encouragers instead of enablers. In the story of the prodigal son, the father who accepted the fallen son back home and fully forgave all the wrongs he had done, even killing for him the fattened calf for a coming home party, the father was doing right, offering encouragement and giving opportunities for a fresh start. When the son came to himself and declared he wasn’t worthy to be called a son anymore, asking to be made a servant, the father accepted his efforts and gave him a fresh start. His actions were grace filled, loving, kind and encouraging. It would have been enabling if he had taken the son back without repentance. It would have been enabling if the father had gone to the hogpen to plead with the boy to return before he got the hogpen out of his heart. Enabling makes it easier for the addict to stay in the addiction. Helpfulness is always offering a way out and encouraging change.
The older brother was certainly not an enabler. Neither was he an encourager. He wanted to withhold grace and forgiveness altogether. He took the attitude that his brother was a crook, immoral, and that he hadn’t changed at all but was just looking for an easier way to live. He stood against his father in his attitude toward to grace. The truth is he was neither an encourager or enabler.
It isn’t always easy to decide when what we are doing is enabling. It is easy if we are looking on and not involved. When we have nothing invested in what is going on we can easily tell everyone else how things should be done. But the closer one is to the situation the harder it is to know in each situation if a thing is enabling or encouraging.
As servants of God and as members of a family we want to build up one another. We don’t want to be used and abused or taken advantage of. Think of things that we can always do that will bless the lives of those around us whether in the family or out. Listening to what is going on and how another feels is always good. Standing for what is right and against what is wrong is the right thing to do any time. Praying for the one struggling with addiction or other such problems is always right. Reaffirming one’s love for another is always right. Extending grace and forgiveness when one declares they are sorry and are penitent is always right. Offering help in doing right is always the right thing to do.