How would you help a woman who can’t seem to say “no”?

When someone in authority asks her to do an extra task, she says “yes,” even at the expense of her commitments to friends and family.

When a man pursues her sexually, she is overcome by what feels like a locked-in syndrome. She wants to refuse, but nothing comes out of her mouth. He might take her passivity as consent.

The biblical teachings on temptation and self-control are just begging to be put to work here. It looks like a simple matter of misplaced desires. She desires to please an authority figure more than she desires to learn wisdom about her use of time. And she must actually desire to be with a man more than she desires to say “no.”

You could confront her. “What you are doing is wrong. The grace of God teaches you to say “no” to temptations to please others, and you are saying “yes.” She would probably agree with you. You encourage her to study Titus 2:11-12 and give her hope that she can change. Case closed.

But one thing is missing. In your confidence that you knew her and knew God’s words for her, you missed humility, which is the entrance into all ministry and pastoral care (Ephesians 4:1-2).

Humility is less self-confident, it listens more carefully, it asks more questions. And it slows us down, which is good. When we don’t understand or are uncomfortable, we instinctively defer to more rapid interpretations that overlook disagreeable or confusing details.

Humility would notice that she certainly does not want to repeat these events. Her tendency is to remove herself from all social situations after events like these. Humility would remember that she is a perfectionist who wants to do the right thing; licentiousness is not a description that naturally fits her. Humility would notice her peculiar robotic-ness, as if she were in a trance, and try to understand that rather than immediately interpret it.

Humility might lead you to say something like this. “You seem so afraid in the face of power or authority. What have people in authority done to you?” Even that might be too abrupt or confrontational. There are many other ways to come alongside her—but she has been open with you about very difficult matters and is likely to keep that door open, assuming you handle her story with care.

When you enter further into her story, you will hear of shepherds who treated her harshly (Jeremiah 23) and cared only for themselves. You will be brought into her uncertain and unpredictable world in which silence and compliance can seem to be the safest ways, even the only way, to avoid something bad. You will hear things about Jesus, some will be true, much will be false, and when our knowledge of Jesus Christ is skewed, our decisions will be too.

Wise care for others can be hard. There are times when there is a simple interpretation of events, and there are times when the simple interpretation is wrong. Humility can help guide the way.