Many years ago, someone close to me was in a crisis. It was bad. And I mean, really, really bad. And I was walking pretty closely through it all.

Like, very closely. As if it were my own crisis.

And I remember a mutual friend asking how this person was handling all of it, and I jumped in and answered how it was affecting this person and us and me.

And our mutual friend said, “Okay, well, we know how you’re handling it, but how is — handling it?”


(When this person answered, I believe they said it was hard, answering in about a thousand less words than I had. Even though it was their thing.)

Do you see what I had done there? I had taken on this person’s crisis almost to the extent that they didn’t need to feel or process because I was doing enough of that for the both of us.

When I begrudgingly (and then soon after gratefully) entered the rooms of AlAnon years ago, I was introduced to a concept that completely blew me away, and it’s this.

When born, we are each given an emotional acre. It is our job to tend to it, to keep it healthy, to make it grow, to keep it from overtaking itself, to keep it from flopping over into others’ emotional acres.

In other words: I am responsible only for myself. (Even in a marriage.)

And on the flipside is this: I am not responsible for anyone else. (Even in a marriage.)

(Sure, it’s my job as a mother to teach my children how to tend to their own acres, but as they grow up, I start putting down the shovel and the rake, and I start backing out the side gate, trusting I’ve done my part and they’ve learned what they need to know to flourish. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.)

Now, sure, we are to serve each other, and help each other out, of course. But that’s not what I’m talking about here either.

I’m talking about Adult #1 not doing what he should be doing with his own life because he doesn’t feel like it and perhaps because Adult #2 is doing more than he should be for Adult #1, sometimes at the expense of both of their well-being.

This is not easy, changing a long-ingrained style of relating, especially if you have controlling or people-pleasing or codependent tendencies, as I do.

It’s much easier to let my own acre slide into disarray. It’s much easier to sit in my acre and judge everyone else’s acre and point out what they should be doing differently. It’s much easier to fixate on someone else’s problems instead of fixing my own.

However, there is such beauty in this concept because when you are truly focused on the wholeness of your acre – and I don’t mean in a self-centered way, but in a self-responsibility way – you will find you have less time and less energy and even less desire to peek over into others’ fences, checking out how they are and are not tending their acre.

Here are a couple questions to ask yourself the next time you find yourself possibly taking on the responsibility of someone else’s life:

  • Does this issue have anything to do with me? Did I contribute to the mess? Is the mess affecting my life? Am I doing something for this person that he should or could be doing for himself?

If it does, then figure out your part and only your part.
If it doesn’t, then think of a way you can encourage this person without doing something for them that they can or should do for themselves, and pray for this person.

  • How is my life working right now – physically, emotionally, relationally, financially, spiritually?

If your life is a mess, work on yourself and what you can fix.
If your life is going pretty well, then be grateful, and pray for this person.

Sweet one, you are truly only responsible for your one life, your one soul, your one mind, your one body. Truly. When you stand before God, you will not be holding anyone’s hand, you will not be able to point to another person as an explanation to why you’re life was a mess. It will be just you, speaking for you. So, starting living that way.

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. -II Thessalonians 3:12

Each will have to bear his own load. – Galatians 6:5

Need to work through some of these issues? Let’s do it. 

Life isn't always how we want it. When change seems elusive, and we're stuck in old routines, a gentle push or some self-reflection can make a difference. Let these questions be that nudge to get you moving.

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