Sometimes It’s Best to Stop Being a Servant
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Sometimes It’s Best to Stop Being a Servant

By Leslie Vernick

I was speaking at a major Christian University about building healthy relationships and a student approached me with a problem. He said, “You teach mutuality and reciprocity are important components in healthy relationships but I get confused because I’ve been taught Christ calls me to be a servant without looking for anything in return.”

He went on to tell me that he’d been practicing servant-hood with his college roommate all semester. He sited examples such as driving his roommate to the bus stop or shopping. He helped his roommate with his study skills, lent him money when he was short, and even straightened out his side of the bedroom. But this servant was getting a little worn out and resentful. His roommate never reciprocated with kindness in return. He never offered to pay for the gas, nor ever asked him how he might meet some of his needs.

As much as this young college student longed to reflect Christ he found himself struggling with the reality that a one sided relationship is not really a true friendship. He wasn’t sure if he needed to speak up and tell his roommate how he felt or confess his negative emotions to God and continue to practice selflessness by serving his roommate.

Jesus did teach and demonstrate servant-hood to his followers as a model of leadership. Yet, Jesus also had real relationships with people where he allowed himself to be served. Mary and Martha, Jesus’ friends, served him. His disciples also served him at times. When Jesus was the only one giving it wasn’t a mutual friendship, it was a ministry.

This is where this young man got confused. Servant-hood is an important discipline for spiritual maturity so that we can reflect Christ to others. However when we repeatedly serve someone and there is no reciprocity or mutuality in return, the relationship doesn’t deepen into a friendship and becomes lopsided. Jesus gladly served others, but when they never reciprocated with even a “thank you” he noticed. (See the story of the 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-19.)

I challenged this young man to consider whether serving his roommate might actually be doing his roommate more harm than good. By sacrificially serving him, he enabled his roommate’s entitlement as well as his growing immaturity and selfishness. The apostle Paul speaks about mutuality and reciprocity in many of the “one another” passages of Scripture. We are called to loving relationships, and servant-hood is part of that process but not the only part.

I encouraged this young man to work on letting go of his anger and resentment but also to wire up his courage and have an honest conversation with his roommate. He might need to say something like, “I think I’ve tried really hard to be a good friend to you. For example, I see you have a need and I drive you or let you use my car when you have to get something from the store. I have given you study tips and helped you out when you were short of cash. I think that’s what good friends do for one another. But you’ve never once asked what you could do for me. When you saw I was sick in bed with the flu last week you never asked if I needed anything or could help me. That hurt and it felt like you didn’t care about me. Friendship goes two ways and I’m wondering why you’re very willing to receive from me, but you don’t give anything back?”

His roommate probably won’t like that challenge, but if the young man delivers it in a caring, compassionate way, it just might be an opportunity for his roommate to press pause, reflect on his own attitudes and behaviors and begin to see that if you want to have lasting friendships you must give back.

If you need to build more CORE Strength for yourself in order to stop enabling other people's selfishness, click here.


The Emotionally Destructive Relationship

by Leslie Vernick

Leslie Vernick, counselor and social worker, has witnessed the devastating effects of emotional abuse. Many, including many in the church, have not addressed this form of destruction in families and relationships because it is difficult to talk about. With godly guidance and practical experience, Vernick offers an empathetic approach to recognizing an emotionally destructive relationship and addresses the symptoms and the damage with biblical tools. Readers will understand how to:

  • Reveal behaviors that are meant to control, punish, and hurt
  • Confront and speak truth when the timing is right
  • Determine when to keep trying, when to get out
  • Get safe and stay safe
  • Build an identity in Christ

This practical and thorough resource will help countless individuals, families, and churches view abuse from God's perspective and understand how vital it is for victims to embrace His freedom from the physical, emotional, spiritual, and generational effects of emotionally destructive relationships.

Two winners will be selected in our next newsletter.

If you would like to enter to win, you can click here to provide name and email address.

The winners of “My First Place” by Vicki Heath are Valerie F. and Angie S.

How Do I Stay Well With A Negative

And Critical Man?

Question: My husband is basically a good man. He is a school teacher and the music director/organist of our Church. He can be patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual. He can also be demanding, tyrannical and irrational.

He blames everyone and anyone for any problems that arise. It is a knee-jerk reaction to even the slightest, most inconsequential of events. If one of our children falls down, his first reaction is to scream an “I told you so” at them- never is his first reaction one of concern for their well-being or safety. He expects our older children- living away from our home with lives of their own- to always be at his beck and call. If he wants them to do something for him, it does not matter that they have jobs, plans, etc. He refuses to be told no. And, everyone cow-tows to him just to keep him on an even keel and avoid the rants and literal rages that he has demonstrated.

While he is a school teacher, his passion is the piano and he is an accomplished pianist and composer- just not as revered and accomplished as he would like to be. Whose fault is that? His parents. His father for having a health crisis when he was younger or his mother for not knowing or doing enough to promote his career. The children and I are also to blame because he has to work a “meaningless” job to put food on the table.

He takes no responsibility for any failure, real or imagined, in his life. He doesn’t seem to have any concept that not everyone’s life revolves around him and that people are allowed their own lives and opinions. He is negative in all aspects of his life, except, of course, if it relates to music. I could write pages about this aspect of his personality, suffice it to say that he will always see the dark cloud around the silver lining. He is also very vocal about his negative thoughts and when he’s challenged, he plays the victim and accuses the challenger of attacking him. It’s to the point where conversation with him is seldom initiated because we all know what his reaction will be. Want his opinion? Just think of the most irrational response and go with that.

Answer: First, I’m confused. You say that your husband basically is a good man, patient, kind, loving, and always deeply spiritual. Then you go on for several paragraphs listing all the ways he is not patient, loving, good or spiritual. Perhaps what you mean is that your husband knows his Bible, can be charming and act loving when everything is going his way and everyone meets his needs and expectations in exactly the way he wants. When that doesn’t happen, (which is real life) watch out!

Now your question is: “How do I live with someone like that and how do I help my children live with someone like that?” The best answer I can offer you is that you will only be able to live with this (if you choose to) with CORE Strength. You will also need a good support system. Add to that an abundance of grace and truth having no expectations at all of a meaningful relationship or a mutual give and take with your husband.

Here is What People are Saying About Leslie's Intro to Core Group

I loved hearing the words that CONFIRM what I have been going thru for so long is WRONG, WRONG,WRONG… And the courage to bravely reach out to other women being kept in the darkness. When I asked the Lord to show me how He saw me, I closed my eyes and immediately saw a small white daisy with light purple edges. I saw its petals opening. I know I am that flower opening, blossoming, with new found courage in to the woman I really am. Thank you!”

~Intro to CORE Strength Participant


Leslie wants to help you grow in your personal and relational effectiveness. Please submit your questions by clicking here.

Then, visit Leslie's Blog as she posts her responses to one question per week.

Note: Due to the volume of questions that Leslie receives, she is unable to respond to every question.


Leslie Vernick PO Box 5312 Sun City West, Arizona 85376 United States