Two monks lived together in a monastery for decades. In time they both died and the first monk awoke to discover that he was in heaven. But he realized that his friend wasn’t with him, so off to the lower realms of eternity he traveled, and that’s where he found his friend, now a worm, digging in a pile of manure.
He said, “I’m going to rescue my friend and bring him back to heaven.” With that, the monk commenced to digging. Before long the worm wiggled out and barked, “Get lost! I’m happy here!” But the heavenly monk grabbed hold of the worm and started tugging and pulling, but the harder he worked at it, the harder that worm clung to his pile of manure.
This story is an adaptation of a Zen tale meant to communicate an important point: If someone isn’t ready to change, if they are truly committed to the manure pile, there’s little you can do about it. And, the more you dig in to help, the more tenacious their grip on the compost will become. Simply, you can’t make someone change. It’s not within your power to do so.
In the teachings of Jesus, we have a similar story known as “The Prodigal Son.” A young man took his fortune, and ran away to a far country and promptly exhausted his enormous wealth. He ended up working on a hog farm, living in a pigpen. Meanwhile, his loving father remained at home waiting, and never chased the boy down, though he must have known the disaster that had overcome his son.
The father was wise enough to know that his son had to come to the end of himself, and attempting to intervene before the young man was finished with the pigpen, would have only resulted in frustrating failure for all parties.
I suspect we all have people in our lives that we want to help—addicts, codependents, emotional junkies. Friends or family who go running over Fool’s Hill every chance they get. We can’t change them, rescue them, or make them see the error of their ways.
We can only wait, hope, and pray that they, like the prodigal, will reach the end of their rope and turn their will and life over to a Power greater than themselves. And, when this happens, then, we can be there to help dig them out.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.