I sat in a meeting a couple of weeks ago with a parent, sobbing on the phone about one of my students:
“I can’t save him!” she cried. “I try so hard, and do everything I can, but I just can’t save him!”
I looked at the other people at the table, and we shared her sorrow. Like her, we were trying to do everything we could for her son, only for our efforts to seemingly be made to no avail, on a daily basis.
That reality, as well as many realities of working in an inner-city school with kids suffering a lot of brokenness in their lives, gave me the hard but necessary reminder: I am not a savior. We are not saviors.
It is the oft-ridiculed stereotype of white teacher, black/Latino student movies like Freedom Writers and Finding Forrester to portray white teachers as being saviors to black kids. The teachers single-handedly turn the troubled lives of their underserved and underprivileged students.
I do not doubt that many of these teachers, whose true stories movies are based on, do great work for their kids and go above and beyond. I endeavor to be one of those teachers, even if I’m not there yet.
But kids are their own individuals. They make their own choices. As a teacher, I am not their savior. I can be their champion and look out for their interests and well-being. I do the best you can, but fail constantly on a daily basis.
The same rings true of life. All of us harbor some degree of a savior complex, but a savior complex actually leads to problematic outcomes. Also defined as the Messiah Complex, a savior complex is defined by Sarah Benton of Psychology Today as “a psychological construct which makes a person feel the need to save other people. This person has a strong tendency to seek people who desperately need help and to assist them, often sacrificing their own needs for these people.”
Remind yourself always that you are not God. Your job is to work on yourself, and let God work on you. Some of the most oft-cited and famous verses in Scripture come from Matthew 7, where Jesus reminds us to remove the log in our own eyes before we remove the logs in everyone else’s eyes.
You have to release people and let them go. It is not your job to fix them. It is not your job to control them. As a teacher, I know this, but it is so hard sometimes to accept this and let my students go.
But why is it that we can’t save other people limiting? Why isn’t it liberating?
Not being a savior and not being God lifts a burden off our shoulders. If it isn’t our jobs to save people, we can not take it personally or offensively if the homeless person we give money to spends money in a way we don’t approve of, if our kids goes down the wrong path, if a family member succumbs to addictions of opioids or alcohol.
I have experienced all these things, and it hurts. It hurts a lot, but not being a savior reminds me that God is working on me, not working so that I can change other people. You can’t change other people. They have their own journeys and have to change or fix themselves, of their own accords. They have their own adventures, their own journeys, and their own walks in their lives.
It won’t happen, but go home every day reminding yourself that you are not a savior. Sometimes, people just have to go through things and be free of your control. Gradually reminding yourself will allow you to internalize that reality and life truth, even if it doesn’t happen overnight.
Be there for support. Let them know you will love them unconditionally. Be their champion. But never forget that you are not a savior.