Gerrit Scott Dawson

Boat SwampedMy friend used to say, “If pulling you into my lifeboat causes it to sink, then I haven’t helped either one of us.” That’s sort of brutal advice. After all, as Christians we’re supposed to help people, right? We’re supposed to be willing to lay down our lives for others. We’re supposed to put them before ourselves. Many times, we’d like to be rescuers, coming in our lifeboats to offer aid. But what if our troubled friends swamp our boats and drag us down too?


Everybody has problems; that’s just a part of life. Situations spiral out of control, or we get caught in the fall-out of other people’s relationships. During difficult times, we often need some temporary help from friends—a listening ear, a few extra dollars, a little time to hang out together. After that, we usually can find the strength to handle our problems or, at least, can see them from a different and healthier perspective.


There are some people, however, who are perpetually depressed, constantly in trouble, or have chronically chaotic lives. They have a different type of need; and their problems are not the result of temporary circumstances but rather stem from deeply-rooted damage which, in most cases, occurred years ago. Perhaps you have one of these friends:

  • The person who can never get enough of your attention. No matter how often you call, you hear, “Why didn’t you call sooner?” This friend is a bottomless pit of need. At first, it felt good to be wanted; but now you feel as though you can’t have a moment’s peace. Being his friend used to be a joy, but now you feel drained. You don’t have anything left to give, but still your friend wants more.
  • The person who gets angry if you pay attention to anyone else. Her jealousy is like a leash around your neck. You like being with this person; but you feel that if you have any life of your own, she will think that you are being disloyal. You resent being trapped by this envious friend, who is always putting down anyone else you like to hang with, even your family.
  • The person who continually makes bad decisions. This friend came to you for advice but seemed intent on doing something dangerous. You warned him about the consequences and tried to steer him down another path, but he did just the opposite and got into a world of trouble. Soon another situation pops up; the same friend asks you for advice but again does the opposite. Your friend seems determined to live a destructive life. You want to help him, but nothing you do or say ever seems to make a difference.

As disciples of Christ, what do we do with these difficult friends who swamp our boat when we try to rescue them?

Sound Advice

I think my friend’s advice is quite sound: If someone swamps your boat, you both sink and no one is rescued. We have to realize that some people have been so deeply wounded that their needs are too great for one person to meet. We have to take care that we don’t get caught as the only friend of these people, for we may find ourselves swamped in the rescue boat with them.

If you have a boat-swamping friend, seek advice from your youth director, your pastor, or a Christian counselor. Consider how your youth group or your friends can work together to care for people who are too much for one person to handle. Do all you can to get your friend into worship, prayer, and fellowship with other Christians. And take heart: God will use you to help others but doesn’t expect you to be their savior. That’s Jesus’ role, and it’s only through his transforming love and friendship that we can solve our toughest problems and heal our deepest wounds.


Take a few minutes to examine the way you care for others. Do you extend yourself to the point of being emotionally drained? Do you feel exhausted by numerous attempts to rescue others? Consider how you protect the boundaries of your life from the overwhelming needs in others’ lives. Who are the friends—both peers and adults—who can help you care for those whose needs are too great for you? Who can help you to restore your energy when you are drained?

Gerrit Scott Dawson is a pastor and writer from Louisiana.

—from devozine® (March/April 2006). Copyright © 2006 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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