When I was struggling in how to work through the tough love process there were many prayer subjects I focused on through that brutally tough period in my family. If you have a family member trapped in a sin or addiction they cannot escape nor want to escape, prayer can help you plan and carry through a healthy plan of action.
1. Pray about where to seek help and counsel and resources.
I was desperate for wisdom from men and women I completely trusted. I prized and longed for their wisdom more than anything in the world. Pray for God to lead you to those men and women. Like with King Solomon, God has granted many wonderful men and women counselors a great deal of wisdom, discernment and strength to guide people in the courageous actions sometimes required in tough love.
Pray for wisdom to lead you to the right resources from a Biblical standpoint. Seek out Christian authors who address helping a loved one break free of addictions and breaking the yoke of oppression. Dr. James Dobson’s classic book, Love Must Be Tough and Drs. Cloud & Townsends’ book Boundaries in Marriage were tremendous resources for me.
Seek the scriptures which speak of restoration and healing like Isaiah 61 and Psalm 103. Pray that God ”will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; God will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Isaiah 61:4.
You also may need to pray for the financial resources to seek and provide the professional help you or your loved ones need at this crucial time.
2. Ask God to help you see clearly any unhealthy relationship patterns
Pray for a clear understanding of the great need to guard your own heart and to protect and restore your family. I had been a doormat to my wife and her unfaithfulness for so long because I was desperate for my wife to change and be faithful to me. I thought being a doormat was the way I could “serve” my wife and be a servant leader. Being a doormat was not God’s will for my home. I learned that if troubled people do not experience the pain of what they are doing, they will never change. Do not protect them from experiencing the consequences, pain, and hurt they have caused. In reaping what they have sown, it will allow them to see the need for repentance and change. Do you have the power and freedom to say no and establish clear boundaries in your life? Yes. Have you confused “Carry each other’s burdens, . . .” (Galatians 6:2) and started to carry other people’s load? Galatians 6:5 says that “each one should carry their own load.” Pray for a clear understanding that the generational sin of enabling loved ones to sin and destroy themselves is NOT God honoring.
3. Ask God to help you set healthy boundaries
Pray God will give you a clear understanding that you must guard your heart and not be a doormat for destructive loved ones. Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” For if you do not guard your heart, you will have nothing to give and no tough love to impart into your loved one. Without healthy boundaries and putting the burden and responsibility of recovery on your sick loved one, there is no hope for a positive outcome. They have to want to get better and not to just go through the motions to please you. Who do they have in their life to hold them accountable? What support system do they have in place? Are they regularly in a recovery support group like Celebrate Recovery? If they do not have these checks and accountability in place, there is very little reason to hope.
4. Ask God to give you a vision for your future.
Ask God to reveal to you what your relationship with your loved one CAN be. Then keep that vision in the forefront of your mind and have it be your goal throughout their recovery process. Believe in faith that God CAN and WILL heal your loved one. Ask God to show you how He will and can “rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated” (Isaiah 61:4). Ask God to “renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. (Isaiah 61:4).
At the same time, be aware that God gives everyone free will. No one is forced to make good, healthy choices. No one is forced to love and honor God. God loves your family member and wants them healed and has the power to do it, but it is up to them to seek His help.
5. Ask God to give you a planned course of action if the boundaries are crossed.
As God gives us guidance about those we desperately love who are caught in cycles of sin, we need to pray for a concrete plan. Our goal must always be for restoration. We want to help free them from their addiction and their sins. Galatians 6:1, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Pray for courage, strength, and boldness to define clear consequences for one who is trapped in their sin. If they do not clearly see consequences and are continually protected from the consequences of their sins, there will be no need for repentance. Restoration will be an elusive goal.
6. Ask God to give you the courage to go forward with your plan when necessary
After rehab and counseling failed to help my former wife, I wrote a letter to her that clearly spelled out what behaviors were unacceptable. I challenged her to either be faithful and honor God in our marriage or leave. By boldly standing up, it puts the burden on our loved ones to repent and change rather than us remaining a doormat. The goal is to set boundaries for a healthy relationship. If the loved one is unwilling to abide by them, then ask them to leave. I did and it was one of the MOST painful, difficult experiences of my life. But I do not regret it.
7. Ask God to help you let go of fear and to help you through any consequences and difficulties of charting a new course in your life
Pray for God’s strength. My former spouse did not choose to change. Her continued behavior made it apparent we had to part ways. This was a very difficult choice for me because separating and eventually divorcing affected all aspects of my life, including my career. Your loved one may rebel further and express deep anger at you when you stand up to them. Allow this passage from Isaiah 61 to be your prayer for yourself during this difficult time of grieving and redeeming: “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Ask God to allow you to be an “oak of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3).
8. Make an ongoing plan to pray for your estranged loved one.
Even if you part ways, pray without ceasing for your loved ones and realize God “who began a good work in your loved one will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6). God can restore what “the locusts have stolen. “ (Joel 2:25). He can redeem and create NEW life! Trust in Him to save your loved one. And leave it in His hands. Be sure not to confuse “praying” with gossiping and telling your troubles to anyone who would listen. Ask for prayer and ask for support but be very careful to protect your loved one and how they are viewed. You want them to be able to return to a loving, supportive support system when they finally return to God’s fold.
9. Begin anew
My former spouse left when she crossed the boundaries I had set in the letter. She returned the next week. Unfortunately, she went back to her unhealthy lifestyle. Sadly our marriage ended. Divorce was not easy. There were many issues including anger, forgiveness, the effect on my career, financial struggles and child rearing issues. It was only with God’s help I made it through.
Yet I have no regrets about “Love Must Be Tough.” I highly recommend it. I found “tough love” to be an amazing confidence booster. God worked in my life in amazing ways since that time. I later had the confidence to begin a Christ-centered relationship with a wonderful woman who later became my wife. I will always be grateful for James Dobson’s book. My Christian counselor called my “tough love” moment one of the strongest Christian moments in my life.
Copyright John Roland 2011