Forks and plates clattered against tables, and conversations filled the cafeteria. In the middle of this bustling scene, my attention was turned to a young woman. She had mentioned that she was in a bad relationship, which I could see was bringing her deep emotional harm. Horrified, I encouraged her to get help and leave the relationship.
“But Jesus hung out with sinners,” she insisted, adding that she needed to “be Jesus” to this guy and help him get better. And, I hate to say, I failed to appropriately respond to this argument and help her leave the relationship. Jesus did walk among sinners. And yes, we need to be Christ to others—so how could this woman’s relationship be a bad thing? After all, she loved her boyfriend. And shouldn’t she help him turn around his life?
I felt incredibly sad for this woman. Bad relationships and abuse are full of many layers of pressures and injuries that make leaving difficult. But several years after this incident, her words still stick with me. This woman claimed that she could be a hero, a savior, for this man. That’s noble. But, to this woman—and to all men and women who’ve thought this at any point—I say: Compromising yourself will not help another.
Yes, we need to bring joy, life, and light into the darkness that others experience. Countless people want to bring others into a better, more chaste, loving life. But, sometimes, with the best of intentions, we can lose sight of our own safety. Sometimes, our desire to reach out means frequenting wild parties where one person alone is trying to cast a shining light of hope while surrounded—physically and mentally—by a harmful environment. Other times, it involves dating a man or woman who doesn’t respect you. It also can include encouraging others in this mentality, through our support of certain books or movies.
It’s good to help others find true love and joy. But if we put ourselves into situations where we can be seriously hurt physically, mentally, or emotionally, then we aren’t helping others or ourselves. We providing opportunities for others to persist in certain behavior, and in the process, we are being severely harmed. Instead of rushing into every situation headlong, we need to recognize our weaknesses. Having the humility to be honest with ourselves is tough, and involves asking difficult questions. If I go to that party, will my chastity be compromised? If she doesn’t respect me in this relationship, will that escalate into abuse?
Years ago, a friend of mine was trying to heal from living a harmful lifestyle. He needed a friend, and someone to hold him accountable—but in order to truly be a loving friend and help him, I had to recognize that I couldn’t fix his problems. He had to take the initiative and seek help. I learned that prayer, setting up emotional & physical boundaries and distance, accountability from people outside the situation, and actively helping another find outside aid are all important. Above all, I learned what St. John Paul II once said: “Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.” In any kind of relationship with other people, we must keep the other person’s ultimate good in the forefront of our minds. If there is a relationship where either of the people is not respected and treated as a person to be loved selflessly, then we need to be willing to sacrifice in order to bring help and safety to ourselves and others. Every person needs love. True, sacrificial, love. We need to reach out to others and show them this love—but we need to do this in safe, selfless, compassionate ways.
AnneMarie Miller studies Theology and English at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She has a passion for the Catholic Faith, chastity, St. Francis of Assisi, and frolicking around barefoot. In August 2013, she was blessed to marry her incredible husband, and the two of them enjoy the epic adventures of married college life. When she’s not doing homework, housework, cooking, or playing chess, AnneMarie reflects on life’s beauty and random observations on her blog, Sacrifice of Love (http://marianninja.blogspot.com).