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How Do I Know When It Is Wise to Give?

John TownsendBy Dr. John Townsend

A care relationship is one in which you are providing good for those who are without. Look at care as the inverse of coaching. When you are coached, you are the one in need. When you provide care to someone, they are the one in need.

Care is not about you or your needs or your struggles. However, in the way God has designed life and the brain, you do receive something back at a very deep and meaningful level. “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isa. 58:10).

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, How to Establish Boundaries in Your Life: An Interview with Dr. John Townsend]

Aspects of a Care Relationship

There are several aspects to a care relationship.

They have a legitimate need for some resource that you can provide. There are many needs which can be addressed.

  • Hands-on work in a developing country, helping them with microfinance. Respect, advice, and structure would be some key nutrients here.
  • Providing care for those in domestic violence shelters. Some primary nutrients would be attunement, comfort, and hope.
  • Mentoring a young businessperson in how to succeed in industry. Acceptance, perspective, and feedback would help here.
  • Teaching a kids’ Sunday school class. You’d want to include affirmation, perspective, and structure (lots of structure; I did it for years).

When a person cannot provide or create what they need to grow, and there is no manipulation or aversion to effort, it is a legitimate need.

They have no avenue to recompense you financially or otherwise. If they could pay for your help or barter for it, that would make this a simple transaction of services, not a care relationship. That is why most counselors I know have several low-fee slots, as their way of giving back to those who could never afford their help.

The only payment you will receive in a care relationship is an authentic and heartfelt “Thank you.” And that has its own rewards. The brain is wired for altruism. When we give from our heart, endorphins are released which provide a pleasant emotional experience. We just feel better.

Your care for them, and their benefit, is the primary focus of the relationship. The focus is on their world, their story, their needs, and their path, not ours. While a care relationship can certainly be a friendship, with a great deal of mutual love and respect, it keeps its focus on the one being cared for.

They take responsibility for the nutrients they are given. A true care person or group does not waste what they are provided. They burn the fuel, using the resources to better their condition, grow, heal, and become more autonomous. They are a very good return on the investment of yourself.

Maintaining Your Perspective

For many, care is part of their wiring. They naturally reach out to others who are without. They have a radar that reads hurt, pain, and distress even when the person in need doesn’t mention it. That is a gift.

However, it is also possible to experience what is called compassion fatigue, which is a form of burnout. The condition occurs when a person gives so far beyond themselves that they have a breakdown in some combination of energy, functioning, mood, time, or finances.

People FuelIf you tend to be vulnerable to compassion fatigue, avoid the thought, Well, I just love too much. That is impossible. God himself is love (1 John 4:8), and our highest call is to love. The problem is instead that we go beyond our resources. When that happens, the care goes away and we have to be cared for—not a good use of time and energy.

Here is a simple matrix for determining whether you should care for someone or some organization, and to what extent, and whether you are supporting or enabling. It is five questions.

  1. Are they truly unable to do this for themselves? “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. . . . Each one should carry their own load” (Gal. 6:2, 5).
  2. Do you have the resources (time, energy, or finances) to spare? “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
  3. Do they have skin in the game? “When we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’ ” (2 Thess. 3:10).
  4. Will you feel cheerful if you say yes? “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” (2 Cor. 9:7).
  5. Is the outcome increased autonomy or increased dependency? “The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’ ” (Prov. 30:15).

However, as long as you are in balance, remember this principle: when we give of ourselves, expecting nothing, we receive much more than we ever thought possible.

We are to be generous and sacrificial in transferring relational nutrients to those who are in need. And we are to practice responsibility so that we can continue giving for a lifetime.

People FuelAdapted from People Fuel: Fill Your Tank for Life, Love, and Leadership by Dr. John Townsend. Click here to learn more about this title.

Full of stories, clinical advice, and accessible takeaways, People Fuel outlines the twenty-two relational nutrients we all need to cultivate good relationships that provide energy, focus, and the support you need to succeed.

We all need more energy, the vitality that helps us stay motivated, focused and productive in life. We know we receive energy from good nutrition, along with working out, adequate sleep and maintaining positivity. But there is another major source for the energy we need: having the right kinds of relationships with others. Not the ones that drain us, but the ones that refuel us.

In his new book, Dr. John Townsend, psychologist, leadership expert and coauthor of The New York Times bestselling Boundaries, shows you how we need the fuel of “Relational Nutrients” from others, and, in turn we can then provide them to others.

Our bodies require physical nutrients to stay healthy. If we don’t take enough iron, we can develop anemia. Too little calcium can lead to bone disease. In the same way, John identifies the key Relational Nutrients that we need. As we experience these critical elements from others, we grow mentally and emotionally more sharp and healthy. And as we give these elements back, others benefit as well.

Finally, Dr. Townsend details the specific types of people who can either be energy sources or energy drains, and gives concrete steps to help you cultivate relationships with those who will help you be all you were meant to be.

Dr. John Townsend is a nationally-known leadership consultant, psychologist, and New York Times bestselling author. John is the founder of the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling, and the Townsend Leadership Program, which is a nationwide system of leadership training groups. He developed the online digital platform TownsendNOW, and the online assessment tool TPRAT. Dr. Townsend travels extensively for corporate consulting, speaking, and helping develop leaders, their teams and their families. He and his wife, Barbi, live in Newport Beach, California, and have two sons, Ricky and Benny. Visit to learn more.

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