Tuesday, June 12, 2018

“I’d Like to Help, but You’re on Fire”

Ecclesiastes 8:15, “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.

I read this verse, today, and felt less than satisfied.  I think it’s because it so closely mirrors one of my favorites yet misses something important, altogether:

Ecclesiastes 3:12, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.”

And to do good…

I should probably back up.

I accidentally threw an old CD in my van the other day, Sara Masen’s “The Dreamlife of Angels,” from 2001.  I meant to snag her 1996 self titled debut.  Either way, this is a confession that I have CDs hanging around that are a couple of decades old, and I’ll probably never get used to digital music, but I hear that some of y’all are spinning vinyl again, so give me a break! (Side note: kid in the front seat was pretty excited for a second, because she thought we had new music.)

At any rate, track 2, “Girl on Fire,” caught my attention for a variety of reasons, this morning.  It uses metaphorical imagery that creates confusion about whether or not it is actually good to be on fire, but the line that continued to stand out to me was, “I’d like to help, but you’re on fire.”

I have incredibly mixed feelings about this sentiment.

First, the helper, fixer, advocate me is a little offended.  Seriously, what good is it if we only help people who don’t need help?  Think that through.  I’m looking at you, and you’re on fire, and I could douse you with water or bury you in sand or maybe just bear hug you until the flames suffocate, but I think it might be safer if I don’t.  So, if at some point you are no longer on fire, please come see me again.  We can hang out.  It might be fun.  Stockpile enjoyment, don’t worry so much about the doing good part.  Keep my reputation intact.  Catch ya later, when you’re of some actual use to me. 

I got a little hot thinking about this (maybe I’m on fire).

But then something else hit me pretty hard.  Sometimes people go up in figurative flames and soak everyone around them with gasoline.  As followers of Christ, we talk a lot about giving ourselves up for others, but I’m pretty sure there is a difference between the genuine desire to help the hurting and living into co-dependent, abusive relationships in the name of love.  The fact that I wrote, “I’m pretty sure,” is giving me pause and causing a great deal of concern all at once.  Surely we can draw appropriate boundaries, but sometimes I don’t think I know what they are, anymore.

“I’d like to help, but you’re on fire.”

Perhaps we need to rephrase.

“Hey!  You’re on fire!  I’d like to help!”

                And… Do you want help?

                And… Do you want me to help?

                And… Are you planning on setting me on fire?

I’m not 100% certain that our response must be dictated based on the answers to these follow-up questions, because every relationship is different, but I do think we deserve to know what we’re getting ourselves into.  Some of us might still choose reckless abandon, but I am sure we don’t have the right to require it, if we’re not the one it affects most.  After all, self-righteous indignation rarely comes from actually taking the risks we so easily thrust upon others…