How to love & serve without becoming a doormat

Trying to become a better Catholic, someone who better imitates Christ, I am striving to love and serve Him in the St. Therese of Lisieux way, in the little ways of my small daily interactions with family (I am largely housebound with illness).

My question is, how do we love and serve those who quickly and continuously take advantage once we open ourselves up to sharing, giving, and serving? Those that take a mile when we give them an inch…

Are we to create some sort of boundary, so as not to complete deplete ourselves, or are we to turn the other cheek, giving to the point of exhaustion or even further illness?

How would Jesus deal with the leaches and the beggars? Especially those with whom he lived with on a daily basis?

Waiting for responses as well, thank you for posting this.

Me, too because I am about to enter into legal territory with a sibling. It ain’t gonna be pretty.

You don’t. I tried this for several years and it kept me in an abusive toxic marriage far too long. At my job as a nurse I often win patients over with kindness. But these people are 1. seeing me for a limited amount of time 2. see me in a very well defined role and 3. are often frightened and/or in a significant amount of pain which (in my opinion) limits their culpability for any unpleasantness on their part. Family members don’t often have boundaries of time, space or roles. Furthermore if someone is the kind of person who will take advantage of a somewhat home bound relative they are not a nice person and will probably never change. If you want to “use” those people as a way for you to increase in holiness that is wonderful. But I think you must then realize that this is a heavy cross to bear and it will be uncomfortable and may hurt a lot. I find I prefer using my challenging job as a way of increasing my love for others and grow in virtue. In my personal life I strive for peaceful relationships that will not drain me but that will build me up and allow me to then give my best to others. One other thing I have noticed, my patients actually need my help but the toxic people I no longer have in my personal life did not need my help. They took pleasure in making me unhappy and causing pain. There is no good that I see coming out of that and I was not such a saint that I could bear that burden indefinitely. Eventually I had to leave these people behind for my own spiritual and mental well-being. Good luck on finding your path to holiness, which ever way you go the road will be hard. The way I am now on suits my personality…

Jesus does not expect any of us to be a doormat. He does expect us to interact with people in peace, with a sense of justice, with kindness, understanding and compassion.
I am reminded of the passage where He says that if you are not well received…shake the dust off your feet and move on. Serving others does not mean you become their slave, or their servant in a subservient way. Serving in this instance means helpful, willing to go the extra mile for someone in great need, willing to bend for the greater good, willing to walk away from a fight in the name of charity and peace.
God’s justice always prevails, whether or not you and I experience the level of justice here and now, that we feel we deserve. There are times when the scales seem to tip toward others.
Pray, try not to worry, and be the best example of Christian goodness that you can be.
The joy that you exhibit is contagious, and you will find that people are kinder to you in return.

I don’t know about Jesus. St. Paul had to put some limits, saying to some that were with them that if they didn’t work, they wouldn’t eat.

You definitely have to set boundaries.

If I abuse a person’s good will and generosity than I have sinned.

Setting boundaries while dealing with people from an attitude of good will can both safeguard you and prevent others from sinning against you.

Oh this is what i need. For my entire life I have been confused how to handle things like this.
But what about passage about turn the other cheek? How do we interpret in daily basis? Take them literally I suppose?

Matthew 5:38-42
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well.
And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also.
And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.

Oh i think i got it. These passages are about worldly wealth, aren’t they? They’re not about give people all our attention & energy just to serve people? I’m really unsure…

Focus more on serving and less on whether you’re becoming a doormat.

Here’s my suggestion:

  1. Do your duty (whatever that is).

  2. Do some extras, and do them with total love. (Like St. Therese.)

  3. Don’t do any extras that you can’t do without hurt feelings and resentment.

  4. Don’t do stuff for people when they beg you not to do it.

As an illustration, I am duty bound to provide basic food to my kids. However, I don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, owe them $5 Jamba juice smoothies. If I can give them smoothies in good conscience and do so with a warm heart, that’s great. But if I can’t give them smoothies without smoldering resentment over how if we hadn’t gotten the smoothies, we could have gotten me much-needed new shoes and look at these kids–they’re not even grateful!, I should not give them the smoothies.

I’m sure we all know people who have poisoned their good deeds by doing them the wrong way.

C.S. Lewis’s “The Four Loves” is a classic that I often recommend here. One of his most memorable inventions in that book is Mrs. Fidget. Mrs. Fidget is always doing good deeds–and everybody (and especially her family) wishes that she wouldn’t. Here’s a blog post quoting the passage from the book:

It is important not to accidentally turn into a Mrs. Fidget!

Remember Christ’s life: His righteous anger, His impatience, His feeling the energy go out of Him, His seeking rest and solace, …Christ did not stand around “helping” all the time, He did not run around giving to His enemies, he did not run to Herod or Pilate to help them out, clean their cabin, wash their feet…unless He was making a statement. He taught, he healed, he prayed, rested, and walked. And His suffering was for a reason. With love and dignity. Never a doormat.

The lesson of my life has been to learn how to be a Christian without being a pushover. The lesson has been to avoid the Hollywood picture of a weak soft Christ with no hard edges or muscle. The lesson of my life has been to learn to be both strong and vulnerable, wise and gentle.

“…How did St. Thérèse live this little way? One example is enough.
‘There is in Community a Sister who has the faculty of displeasing me in everything, in her ways, her words, her character, everything seems very disagreeable to me. And still she is a holy religious who must be very pleasing to God. Not wishing to give in to the natural antipathy I was experiencing, I told myself that charity must not consist in feelings but in works; then I set myself to do for this Sister what I would do for the person I loved the most. Each time I met her I prayed to God for her, offering Him all her virtues and merits…I wasn’t content simply with praying very much for this Sister who gave me so many struggles, but I took care to render her all the services possible, and when I was tempted to answer her back in a disagreeable manner, I was content with giving her my most friendly smile, and with changing the subject of the conversation… One day at recreation she asked in almost these words: “Would you tell me, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, what attracts you so much towards me; every time you look at me, I see you smile?” Ah! What attracted me was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul.’ (Chapter 10, Clarke 222-223)”

The intention is not to avoid giving too much. The intention is to avoid giving in the wrong way.

For instance, if you are pressed to go a mile, you go two: that is what we are to do. You give generously, even when you are pressed into giving.

On the other hand, you have to avoid becoming a near occasion of sin by encouraging someone to become a user or to teach them to get through life by manipulating others. I was taught this is the “third way”: when you are struck, you turn the other cheek not only instead of hitting back, but also instead of falling down and giving in to evil. You do speak the truth and encourage others to also live virtuous lives. This is particularly true when you are dealing with brothers and sisters in Christ.

Secondly, there is also a time to pour yourself out and a time to “come away for awhile.” You do have to avoid letting a few people use you up so that you can’t do your future work as you ought to do.

As to dealing with relatives, it is well to remember this incident from the Gospels:
*Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” *Luke 12:13-15

It is important to step back often and ask yourself what your motives are when you are in family conflicts. It helps to step back and take a compassionate look at the best light you can put on your siblings’ motives and a realistic view of the likelihood that you will get them to amend lifelong faults by direct means. It is a balancing act, because as the family therapist once put it:* “The definition of a dysfunctional family is this: A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.” *We all have quirks, faults, and red buttons, and nothing makes them show up like a family crisis. Dealing with these with a sense of affection and a sense of humor really helps. That doesn’t mean letting your siblings get into a habit of sin. It does mean stepping back and looking at what is best for the souls involved, and let the other stuff come second. Again: easier said than done!!!

These are all really fantastic replies. Thank you everyone for your suggestions – very helpful! God bless!

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