What Do You Do When You’ve Done All You Can?

This was written to link with #LiveFreeThursday at tsuzanneeller.com
The prompt today is “when you’ve done all you can” and it touched a nerve, but I have been feeling for a while that this is something I should write about, so it seems to confirm that I should.


I have a wonderful friend who I’ll refer to here as Kate (that is not her real name.)  We have known each other for over 20 years and she is intelligent, beautiful, brave and one of the kindest, most thoughtful people you will ever meet.  I have lots of happy memories of time spent together and she is like a little sister to me.

But Kate has struggled for several years with various mental health issues: anxiety, depression, self-harm, anorexia, attachment disorder and multiple suicide attempts, and the situation has worsened over the last couple of years.

In place of memories of fun and laughter are memories of hospital visits and suicide threats and long late night conversations filled with heart-breakingly graphic descriptions of how awful and hopeless she feels, memories of times when she isolates herself from me, and from everyone, and any attempt to contact her is met with refusals or excuses.

She has become almost unrecognisable as the friend I knew.  Occasionally there are glimpses, but mostly the illness consumes her, and one of the hardest things for me has been to face the fact that there is a limit to what I can do.

I want to fix it.  I want to take away her pain and heal her and restore her to who she really is.  I want her to believe in herself- to believe that she’s beautiful and precious and worthy of love.  I want to see her set free.

But I am powerless.

I can love her and be there for her.  I can speak words of encouragement.  I can pray for her.  I can cling on to hope and encourage her to do the same, but I cannot save her.

When you’ve done all you can, and it’s not enough, where can you look but to God?

That raises its own issues.  If God loves her, why does he allow this suffering?  How can he let it be so bad for so long?  How is it going to end?  What if she attempts suicide again and this time she succeeds?

This has tested my faith more than any suffering I have faced of my own and I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but I have learned a few things about what to do when you’ve done all you can.

  • I think the first step is to accept that- to accept that there’s no more you can do, except to keep loving and keep praying.  I wasted far too much time wondering if I could have done something differently, wondering whether I should be praying more, or “better”- just wanting to fix it somehow.  I had to face the fact that I can’t, and that fixing this situation is not my responsibility.
  • Keep doing what you can.  Even if it seems to be making no difference at all, keep loving and keep praying.  It probably matters more than you realise.  At least it lets them know they’re not alone.
  • Give it to God.  Be honest about your feelings and your fears and your doubts.  Accept that your feelings will be messy.  In some ways for me it has been like moving back and forward between the different stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).   I suppose in some ways I have been grieving for the friend I knew, although I hang on to the hope that she is not gone forever.
  • Leave it with God.  I still struggle with this at times.  Accepting that I can’t control the outcome and that it may not be what I would choose is hard.  This is not a nice story where I can tie it all up with a bow and say that God healed her in the end.  She is still struggling.  The last time I chatted with her she had begun abusing painkillers again after stopping for several months.  It scares me to think of the irreparable damage that has already been done to her body and to wonder what the future holds, but mostly I have reached a point where I have surrendered it to God.  He knows her better than I do, and he loves her better than I do.
  • Make sure that you have support.  It is too big a burden to carry alone and it is unhealthy to try.  I like this quote from Frederick Buechner who writes about supporting his daughter through anorexia.  “If your daughter is struggling for life in a raging torrent, you don’t save her by jumping into the torrent with her, which leads only to your both drowning together. Instead you keep your feet on the dry bank-you maintain as best you can your own inner peace, the best and strongest of who you are-and from that solid ground reach out a rescuing hand.”
  • Hold to what you do know.  I may not know why things are as they are or what will happen, but I do know God is good.  I do know he loves Kate and that he works all things together for good.  I do know that he has power to heal.  I do know I can trust him.

I want to have the same attitude that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had as they stood before King Nebuchadnezzar: If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)

I want to say that, whatever the outcome, I will continue to trust in God.



>      purposefulfaith.com        Holly Barrett


38 thoughts on “What Do You Do When You’ve Done All You Can?

  1. Hope you don’t think me weird but I wanted to recommend “Spiritual Warfare” by Karl Payne. I have a friend who suffered like this since high school and she went through something called “deliverance.” All I know is it worked for her. Her reaction to this deliverance has been very similar to my reaction to breaking free from my ex and his abuse. I don’t think that’s coincidental.

    You have the most mature attitude I’ve ever read about this sort of situation. Most people either walk away, or they enable. Praying for strength for you and for freedom for her.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the recommendation- I will check that out- and of course I don’t think you’re weird! 🙂
      Thank you too for your encouragement. It has taken a long time and a lot of God’s work for me to get to the point where this is my attitude. I really appreciate your prayers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You so touched my heart. Thank you for sharing this burden on your heart. Your words were inspirational and helped me with some issues I’m also experiencing. You gave me courage and solid steps to stand upon. I’m praying for you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a woman whose husband is a dual-diagnosis professional counselor and also as a woman who has extended family members who once struggled with mental health issues and who self medicated with alcohol, there comes that moment when you realize that you aren’t big enough to fix it.

    What I love about this post is that you care so much and that you’ve been there. What a beautiful friend you are! You matter.

    My prayer is that your friend will sense God’s great love for her, and that she will also go to the nearest dual diagnosis center that will help with the mental health issues that are not her fault, that have hurt her for far too long, and that drive her to self medicate to feel better. God loves her. He has marked her as His own. Sometimes it’s just bigger than us and reaching for help is the strongest move we can make. I pray that this is her next step.

    Thank you for loving her so well! Thank you for joining with me on #livefreeThursday today. What a genuine, beautiful post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Suzie, for your advice and encouragement. My friend is already receiving a lot of professional help with the various issues, but is still struggling. I think understanding God’s love for her would make a big difference so I appreciate your prayers for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You touched me deeply. How amazing you are with your openess and frankness. You have given me steps to take in my own life. Thank you again.
    You are a gift and a blessing to your friend. You are an example of how friendship should be.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh my goodness, tears. Praying for your beautiful friend. What an incredible advocate you are for her. I love that you love her enough to care so deeply, to pray, to know that you are not big enough to “fix” her. This is solid advice for anyone walking through similar. Thank you for being bold enough to stand in the gap for “Kate”…. may you feel His blessings today! #livefreeThursday

    Liked by 2 people

  6. My heart is breaking for you and your friend, Carly. It must be so devastating to see her self-destruct. And so frustrating when your comfort is not taken to heart. You are such a great friend and you surely are doing what Jesus would do with your unconditional love and support. I’m so glad you shared this along with such important advice. Surrendering control to God is really a hard one, isn’t it? I love also the quote from F. Buechner. May God break into your friend’s heart with His healing love and give you strength and peace in such a heartbreaking situation! Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Trudy. It is hard but because it’s been going on for so long I’m used to it now and I’ve worked things through and mostly surrendered it to God. Thanks so much for your prayers- I know God can still turn things around and bring healing.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for the post. My adult daughter is struggling with mental health issues and your words made me feel less alone.
    I know God will heal her and I know He’s working even now before we see the healing. Your words gave me comfort today.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m praying for your friend, and for you, as well.

    I’m also going to sit with your words for awhile. I’m having a rough time with some students. I’ve done all I know and, yet, the kiddos and I still butt heads. I think it’s time to give this to Him.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, how heart breaking! I so appreciate your sharing of such a raw, real, difficult part of your life. The lessons you have shared are important and I admire your wisdom.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you so much! Your words of wisdom have really helped me look at a current family situation in a different light. It is so easy to become frustrated when “things” get bad again after being good and then allow that frustration to settle in and take control of our thoughts and mind instead of holding on to what I do know for sure.
    Thanks for pulling me out of that ‘mental stronghold’! Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Dyana. I’m glad the post helped you. It is so important to hold on to the truth and the things we know, especially when circumstances are changing- and I relate to the frustration when things have seemed to be going well and then get worse again.
      Praying for you!


  11. Carly, your post broke an already broken heart for those like your friend. I have several girls in my bible study who are coming out of a struggle such as your friend, a mother who has a son, now in jail for drugs, so many broken hearts among just us 35 some women who meet once a week. Several years ago our son walked away from his marriage, two children for no other reason but he was thinking only of himself. The year he got divorced we moved to where he lives because of our ministry we thought. Because of the high rent in southern California we chose to rent a place with our son. It was hard decision and had there not been children involved we would have left him to sleep on people couches. We knew we had to set guidelines, boundries or it would destroy us. Of course he little money due to the divorce and he was spending what he had left walking in sin. But we charged him rent and when he got behind his Dad kept a tab which he had to pay or get out. I told him I would not wash his clothes, clean his room and he absolutely could not bring his sin into the house. The only thing he ask of us is that we not invite him to church, we didn’t. I ask people praying all over the world, literally and this was how I ask them to pray. God bring him to the end of himself, make him sick of his life style, God did. I would go into his room at night when he was gone, beg God on my knees to convict him, to bring people around him that would speak truth into his life. Some Christian would say, oh I cannot pray that way, God’s knows what will happen to my child or friend. The Word is very clear what will happen whether we pray or not for someone who has mental issues and sin issues. But I know for a fact God can clean up a mind that been destroyed by strokes and drinking for a moment or two to where truth can be spoken, I know this because of my Dad who lived with us till he did, the day after my husband led him to the Lord. His mind was gone, he usually thought I was his Mom. I could go on and on, pray with courage trusting the Lord for your friend and ask God to give you discernment how to love on them. Not everyone is suppose to do as we did, each case is different. WE loved our son even while he was in the pig pen but we did not enable him to stay there. By the way our son did become sick of the pig pen and walked out of it back to the Lord, remarried his wife and now worship the one who created the pig pen and the feet to walk into it or out of it. God does not want you to go to the pit with your friend, it’s not his design for anyone who love a broken person. His Son has already did that on the cross, you cannot fix it. How my husband and I lived on that little phrase, we cannot fit it. And even though we love our son, God loved him more. Human love is frail, God’s is not, He knows how far down one must get to before they will chose to say, enough. Sad thing is , some never do say enough, God give us the gift of choice. You have written of your choice to love your friend, pray for your friend, not enable her, that is more God like then you know, it is a tough love. But is that not what God loved us through on the Cross. I love this post, going to repost it, many need to hear this message of, I cannot fix it. Bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing part of your story here. It must have been so hard to know what to do in the situation with your son- so heart-breaking, and hard to reach the point of accepting you couldn’t fix it. It’s so encouraging that he came to know God, and your dad as well. Certainly God has the power to break into any situation and transform it, no matter how impossible it seems, and we have to hold on to that hope, and the fact that God cares for our loved ones even more than we do.
      Thanks for your encouragement. Feel free to share the post.


  12. Your post offered me so much encouragement.

    I have a son who is an alcoholic; has been for many years… I had never “confronted” him about it, but I knew I needed to to feel at peace. Once I did, though, I knew I had to let it go. That I had done all that could…

    Now I am in the prayer phase, trusting God to “accomplish all that concerns me”…


    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Karen. That is such a heart-breaking situation. I’m glad you were able to speak to your son about it and to hand it over to God. Praying for you as you keep trusting, and praying that God will bring transformation in your son’s life. I’m glad my post encouraged you.


  13. Such wisdom you’ve gleaned through what sounds to have been a hard journey. Your friend is blessed to have someone in her life praying so fervently and caring so deeply. It can be hard when we feel the weight of another’s burden. Praying that God meets both of your needs and brings restoration. Visiting today from #tellhisstory.


  14. Thank you for this post it’s just what I needed and I know God showed me this post. Praying for your friends and your struggle and trusting that only God can heal.
    My teenage 15 yr old daughter is suicidal. This has been going on for 4 years now. God has brought me right now to a place to let go and let God it’s going to be a hard journey where I can see myself taking and giving it back. Thank you for sharing it’s been so good for me to read this. Only with the grace of God can I give her to Him and let Him take charge. She doesn’t want to believe in God although when she was younger she has such a love for Him. I pray for your friend and my daughters deliverance and that God will fill them with His everlasting love in Jesus name I pray Amen thank you Lord for Carly and using her as a vessel for me


    1. Thank you, I’m so glad my post was helpful. Sorry to hear about your daughter. Praying for healing and that God will transform her situation.
      Praying for you too. It’s so hard to watch a loved one struggle and to feel there’s nothing we can do. I’m glad you’ve been able to hand it over to God. It’s not easy and I relate to what you say about giving it to him and taking it back over and over. Praying that you are able to give it to him and know his rest and peace.


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