Why Bother Helping People Who Hurt You: Puppies & Porcupines

Yesterday I asked How Do You Help An Injured Porcupine? Today I’m thinking of a different question:

Why bother?

Ever cuddle a puppy? They curl up in your lap and lick your face. Everything about a puppy is somehow warm and soft and fuzzy.

Cuddling a puppy is fun and rewarding. Puppies do cute stuff—even their mischief elicits smiles. They appreciate and respond to kindness. They trust. If you get angry they forgive.

Even non-dog-lovers have a soft spot for puppies. If hurting people were like puppies, helping them would be easy. Folks would line up for the opportunity.

Now imagine cuddling a wounded porcupine. I’ve never tried, but I suspect it might not be the same sort of cozy experience. I’d speculate that most people would do just about anything to avoid close proximity to a porcupine.

Ever notice that those who are hurting the most are also the most defensive and difficult to help? They isolate themselves behind self-constructed barriers. They’re easy to dismiss and avoid because everything about them says “LEAVE ME ALONE.”

And if you persist and reach past the shell, they bristle. Razor-sharp quills stand ready to repel any approach. Your intent is irrelevant—some sort of physical, emotional, or spiritual injury conditions them to perceive everyone as a threat. Like a porcupine, their entire existence seems focused on isolation and defense.

Most of the time, the nasty, menacing appearance is sufficient. Why bother trying to help a wounded creature who does everything imaginable to intimidate and frighten?

Occasionally, compassion overcomes discomfort. You ignore the warnings and take the risk of stepping beyond your comfort zone. And how does the ungrateful creature respond?

He lashes out. He bites, or scratches, or launches a barrage of harmful quills. You immediately retreat, convinced that any contact will only result in further personal injury.

If the stupid animal wants to be left alone to suffer, that’s his choice. Why risk further harm to help someone who responds to kindness with anger?

Why bother?

After my injury, I spent more than a decade behaving like a wounded porcupine. Friends and family finally succumbed to nastiness and left me alone.

Fortunately, a small group of folks refused to walk away. They endured the painful quills of anger and responded to ungrateful biting and scratching with patience, compassion and love. Those people saved my life. That’s the story of Relentless Grace.


I spent ten years complaining that Jesus didn’t show up when I needed Him the most. I expected flowing white robes, angels, and trumpets, so I missed Him. He was right there, dressed in a nurse’s scrubs, a therapist’s white coat, and a friend’s blue jeans.

They weren’t “spiritual.” They didn’t spout scripture or offer comforting platitudes. They just showed up and refused to leave.

They stepped past the barriers, ignored the defenses and barbs, and cuddled a wounded porcupine.

It’s easy to help someone who’s appreciative and cuddly, who responds appropriately to our kindness and makes us feel good. But most hurting folks aren’t like that. As my friend Jeff Lucas says, “Hurt people hurt people.”

So … why bother?

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! [Philippians 2:5-8]

Hurting people, and a hurting world, scream at Jesus to leave us alone. I think if I were Him I might think “Why bother?”

Instead, He adopted an attitude of humility and service. He ignored the pain and the rejection. He sacrificed everything to cuddle a world full of nasty, ungrateful, wounded porcupines.

That’s the attitude to which we’re called.

That’s the answer to “Why bother?”

Who are the wounded porcupines in your life? How do you get past their defenses?