A colleague recently said to me, “You Christians are  all co-dependent.”

He was referring to the premium Christianity places upon being willing to sacrifice oneself for the good of others. Like many people, he confused co-dependency with what is more properly called,  “redemptive suffering” and there’s a big difference.

One way to think of redemptive suffering is to view it as the suffering you endure when you stand up for what is good and just.  Imagine that I do something wrong and you–charitably–tell me about it.  Even if you were kind about it, you might suffer because I might be upset with you, and I might suffer because I’m being challenged to change.  But that suffering is redemptive because you are strengthening your backbone and I’m getting a chance to be a better person.

But co-dependence represents an unhealthy counterfeit of redemptive suffering.  Codependency is what happens when you suffer because you’re too afraid, tired, or worn down to stand up for what’s good and just.

Let’s use the same example.  Imagine I hurt you, but this time, you don’t say anything  because you just don’t want the trouble.  You’ll suffer, all right, but that’s not redemptive suffering.  If this tendency takes hold over the long haul in an unhealthy relationship, it becomes co-dependency,  and there is nothing virtuous about it.

Whether you are a believer or not, there will be times when you are challenged to sacrifice your comfort, security, or peace, for some greater good.  Knowing the difference between co-dependence and redemptive suffering can spell the difference between a worthwhile sacrifice and one that’s wasted.

Suffering man photo available from Shutterstock.