Give until it hurts? Really?

Photo credit: Chromatica,

Last weekend, I did something wrong. I felt powerless to stop. But I was already committed.

I gave until it hurt.

What did I do? I spent the day helping a friend realize her dream to publish a book. I’m not against self-publishing. I think it’s another option for us writers. But I am totally against it when an author publishes a book before it’s ready. And this book wasn’t ready. Despite my discomfort, I had to keep going. I was already committed…

It took seven hours to upload the book to, test it, make changes, upload again, etc. Then we started the whole process again on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing site. We were on a deadline. She had announced to all her friends and family on Facebook that the book would launch that day. Little did we know it would take 24-48 hours for the e-book to appear on and 5-7 days for the printed version to become available. There were formatting errors on the e-book version and a typo on page one. “That’s okay. I just want it done,” she said.

I was fine with the all-day-long project. I’d expected it. And my friend’s excitement was contagious—we actually had a lot of fun. After more than a year of helping with her book, it was a relief to have the project completed.

It wasn’t until the next day that the pain began. Just a small pain, but one that put me over the edge.

My friend doesn’t have the internet at home, so she called to ask if her e-book had published on Amazon. I was in the middle of watching a movie with my husband, but I paused it and went online. I told her that yes, her book had appeared on Amazon. She asked me to log in to her email account to get her Facebook login credentials, then log onto her Facebook account to announce that her book was available. She also wanted me to log on to to see how many units she had already sold. I did as she asked. I was frustrated, but not enough to say no.

She called. I jumped. I whined about it afterwards, and my exasperated husband called me on my crap.

“Why do you keep saying yes to people? And not only do you say yes, you offer even more than they’re asking for.”

“Because I want to be the type of person who helps other people.”

“At whose expense? Yours? Mine? Where am I on that list you made?”

My tendency to over commit and over give has been a topic of heated discussion with my husband for a while now—so much so that earlier this summer, in an effort to stop taking on more projects, I created a list of priorities and attached it to our calendar. God was #1. Then my husband. Then my job. Then finishing my novel.

“You’re #2, right after God.”

“It sure doesn’t feel like it. I think other people come first, then maybe your novel. Then maybe me.”


“But helping my friend self-publish her book was one of the two projects I already committed to this summer.”

“But… but… but… You keep saying making excuses. Your commitment to her ended yesterday. But you’re helping her today. When is it going to stop?”

I know I need to stop the hemorrhaging of my own thoughtless giving. It’s hurting me. It’s hurting my husband.

I could blame my good Christian upbringing for this malady.

It was Mother Teresa who said, “Give, but give until it hurts.”

We should all be such good Christians.

I went to the Bible for answers, but all of the verses just made me feel like I should give more.

If I were a good Christian, I would pour myself out… But how many of us are called to service and martyrdom like the apostle Paul?

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.
Philippians 2:17

If I were a good Christian, I would cheerfully share my abundance with others.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
II Corinthians 9:6-8

But I’m not “abounding in every good work.” I’m being depleted. And I’m not sure I’m glorifying God with all this giving. I’m not saving souls here. I’m just helping other people with their projects while I put my writing goals on the back burner. I’m acting like, well, a victim.

I recognize myself in a quote from Frederick A. Levy LCSW in Codependency: When You Give Until It Hurts:

Codependency is a disorder that describes the compulsive need to take care of other people at the expense of appropriate and necessary self care… Their friendships consist of caseloads of needy people; yet, codependents rarely feel that they are doing enough for others. They have a hard time saying “no.”

Remember Newton’s law of physics? For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Giving and receiving doesn’t happen in a void. Somebody is emptied out. Somebody else is filled.

Check out this snippet from The Pathological Altruist Gives Till Someone Hurts by Natalie Angier:

Yet given her professional background, Dr. Oakley couldn’t help doubting altruism’s exalted reputation. “I’m not looking at altruism as a sacred thing from on high,” she said. “I’m looking at it as an engineer.”

And by the first rule of engineering, she said, “there is no such thing as a free lunch; there are always trade-offs.” If you increase order in one place, you must decrease it somewhere else.

Moreover, the laws of thermodynamics dictate that the transfer of energy will itself exact a tax, which means that the overall disorder churned up by the transaction will be slightly greater than the new orderliness created. None of which is to argue against good deeds, Dr. Oakley said, but rather to adopt a bit of an engineer’s mind-set, and be prepared for energy losses and your own limitations.

I don’t want to stop giving. I just need to be much more intentional about it.

How about you? Have you found yourself in a situation where you gave until it hurt? What did you do about it? How did you feel?

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Luke 6:38

Leave a comment


  1. I run into these same problems, but I give 100% to my writing dream, and my husband definitely follows behind. Actually, if I were to be truthful, he’s #4 after spirituality, children, and writing.

    I grew up in a co-dependent family also, and as a child I self-sacrificed until I was dying inside. As an adult I decided no more of that, but I think I have gone too far in the opposite direction, and give virtually nothing to other people.

    I try not to overanalyze it too much, but I am aware of it. I try to correct it when I can. But it’s not easy when I know that if I didn’t put my writing first, no one else will either. And my dream will never be realized. That’s just the situation in my life, and I’m paying my dues for the decisions I have made. I tell myself that once I’m published, things will change because even though I’ll be as busy, I won’t have to prove that I can do this anymore.

    Overgiving is a tough habit to break. I have a cousin who is in a similar boat to yours and gives until it hurts. She decided that she would only do that for people who have really been there for her and who would give her the shirt off their backs in return. I don’t think it’s all about give and take, but you have to find your limits that make you comfortable. For her, it was simply only giving until it hurts to people who would do the same for her. And it’s worked out really well in her favor. She isn’t as stressed, and she has discovered who her true friends really are.

    Good luck 🙂

  2. Kathryn, thanks for the fantastic advice. I keep going to extremes. I go through phases of not giving at all (in response, like you, to family-of-origin issues), then backslide into old habits… I overcompensate for awhile by giving too much, then burn out and get mad. Argh!

    The give and take lesson is critical. I have to count the cost. I can’t just give blindly – I have to be more selective. There are people out there who are very good at just taking… And I keep finding them… Sigh. Maybe I need to learn how to receive better. There’s a thought. 🙂

    Bottom line is – I need to stop letting other people’s dreams be more important than mine.

  3. My situation of giving to someone until it hurt was for the sake of another. When it got to the point where what I gave was being trampled upon, I had to end the giving. I can’t be specific, but there comes a point when you know it’s time to stop the handouts.

    I think you “give until it hurts” as long as it’s only hurting yourself in a biblical, sacrificial way. Once you start rescuing people and not allowing them to grow through their mistakes, then you’re hurting them. We hurt our husbands by putting something/someone other than God before them. We hurt our children by giving them everything they cry to have. Search the Bible for passages to balance out the ones you’re reading about giving. Jesus, the Greatest Giver, gave His life for us, yet He withholds much from us so that we will grow and trust in Him. I’d let Him be your example and God’s law be your guide.

    Lastly, remember to keep those Bible verses in context. The giving in each doesn’t necessarily pertain to the giving you’re doing with your friends.

    Yikes — that was a long comment. Hope it all makes sense.

    • Thanks for the gentle reminder about context, Darla. I think memorizing all those Bible verses growing up in Sunday School became kind of a mantra in my head… I haven’t spent as much time dwelling on them in their proper context.

      Your comments reminded me of James Dobson’s “tough love” concept. Sometimes we’re not doing others any favors by helping them. We just make their situation worse. Such a paradox…

      Grateful for my husband for calling me on my mixed up priorities and keeping me on track. Need to rely on The Inner Guide more often… that still small voice.

  4. I’m sorry you found yourself in such a difficult situation. 😦

    In my job as a teacher, I find myself often giving and giving even when I should say no. Sometimes I know I should step back and stop but that can be hard when friends and students need a little help. In that sense, I know exactly how you feel.

    • Thanks C.B. I just wish I’d see those situations in advance before I get in too deep! 🙂 It is, indeed, hard not to help when you see a need…

  1. Friendship in the Land of Middle Age « Natalie Sharpston

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: