I would rather hug a fear away than watch another person struggle. Wouldn’t you? But sometimes the painful work of love is to refrain from embracing. Tough love some call it. Many can’t handle the agony and must rush to help. But if help replaces the growth another needs; it is misplaced.
I remember watching Lisa put on her socks before we discovered the sock-aid. It was an independent skill that took excruciating effort on her part and sometimes even more from me to watch without helping. She would lie on her side on the bed, her leg bent at the knee behind her so that she could reach her foot. Then she held the sock behind her allowing her toes to find the opening like a caterpillar crawling into a tight space. Painstakingly she pulled and tugged with just the tips of her fingers because that is all the reach she had. Finally, sometimes as much as five minutes later, the sock covered her foot. No worry that the heel was in the front. As long as the sock was on, we called that success!
A time to refrain from embracing is a time to let another person grow on their own. It is a time to withdraw and let the one you love make discoveries by themselves. Enabling is over-helping. It draws attention to what you do well instead of letting another person learn for themselves. It is the cocoon catastrophe. Help a wet-winged butterfly leave the cocoon and you take away the ability to fly.
“Do it myself” our toddlers demand. We smile and take hands off but surround them with our encouragement and protection during their independent forays. It is our presence that helps them the most. Besides, we are all praise on the other side of their awkward tries at independence. It is harder with a teenager and even more tenuous with young adults. That’s where parents depend on wisdom only God can give. It isn’t that fearful, emotional nudge that disintegrates into enabling. It is God’s gentle whisper reminding us “I’ve got this.” We must be His partners in coaching the growth journeys of our children, not obstacles in His way. We are learners as much as they are. It is growth for both of us.
A time to refrain from embracing is also a time to say good-bye. It means to stop holding on to something or someone you need to let go of to move on. Knowing when to leave the familiar and comfortable and move on is the work of this important rhythm. We stagnate when we reject new beginnings God wants to give. The Children of Israel learned the hard way that a long, dusty walk in the wilderness was necessary to help them overcome enemies by God’s timing and live single-focused on God’s commands. Their best dreams could never upstage God’s. We tend to forget that and settle for our best ideas when God would bring something past our ability to imagine.
Where do you need to turn away from something that will prevent or slow your growth? Where do you need to learn that it is time to refrain from hovering or over-helping so that the one you love can grow? Take your cue from God’s ways. His presence frees, reassures, affirms; but never gets in the way of the growth He wants for us. He’s always about encouraging the butterfly to find his wings.