I went fishing at work today. Initially, I had no plans to go fishing and had no fish to fry. I reported to work without my rod and reel and tackle box. But when Marilyn started telling me about her daughter Jackie, it became apparent that I needed to be a fisherwoman for the day because when it pleases God to put you into a fishery, you go fishing. With the recounting of her daughter’s woes, Marilyn allowed me to see into the fishbowl of her life. So, I fetched my spiritual fishing gear and stayed alert for a conversational place to cast in my hook.
According to Marilyn, her 32-year-old daughter has problems. When Jackie gets angry at the world and at her family she disconnects and withdraws from family and stops calling. Then Marilyn worries herself sick and eventually calls Jackie to bail her out of her present difficulties, which often includes financial debt. This dysfunctional behavior pattern has been ongoing for years. As I listened to Marilyn my initial assessment of the fishy situation was this: Marilyn seemed to be enabling her daughter to stay in an unhealthy and destructive lifestyle. “What is the worse thing that can happen if you don’t call her,” I asked Marilyn. “I would be sick with worry if I don’t talk with her,” she responded. “I would worry if she was all right.”
At this point in the conversation I opened my tackle box, looked to the Creator of fish to show me which lure to use, attached the lure to the hook, readied my line, and then dropped the bait. I was now on a serious fishing expedition: “Marilyn, do you want my advice on your situation?” I asked her.
She immediately walked briskly over to my desk, plopped herself down in a chair, faced me directly, clasped both hands in her lap, sat rigidly upright, and announced, “I’m listening.” It was as if a perfect fisherman’s knot tied our spirits together. Her steel-gray eyes locked with mine. Wow! I thought. She’s interested in the bait. What most surprised me was that when she took the bait, the fishhook didn’t even appear to be painful for her.
I proceeded to carefully and cautiously reel her in. I gently encouraged Marilyn to change her thought life. “Marilyn, every time you catch yourself worrying about Jackie, immediately replace that thought with a thought of relinquishment of Jackie to God. Remind yourself that God loves Jackie more than you do and then ask God to intervene and help Jackie. And I know this will be hard, but try not to call her. This approach is what they call tough love. I’ll be praying for you.” I then shared with her how I had been working on my own thought life by cleaning and filleting the stinky thoughts that got caught in the fishnet of my mind.
I was confident that my fishing technique with Marilyn was one of gentleness and respect and that I had spared my coworker from a spiritually searing hot fish fry. I certainly didn’t want to turn her into a crispy fish stick with harsh preaching because if I did that there was a good chance I would have to throw her back, unaided, into her sea of troubles. I gently secured my catch by suggesting to Marilyn that she stop interfering with spiritual work that God perhaps wanted to accomplish in her daughter’s life. “Let God do His work in His way and in His timing,” I suggested. She gratefully received this morsel of counsel and said in a childlike way, “I’ll try.”
A few weeks later I saw Marilyn again. I had to ask. “How’s Jackie?” “You’ll never believe what happened, Sandy!” she said excitedly. “Jackie called me and she’s getting help. She’s seeing a counselor!” God the Great Fisherman had done with Marilyn and her daughter what He deemed needed to be done. In a figurative way, I had placed Marilyn, a fresh catch, into the cooler of prayer for safekeeping.