I have always seen this in the context of one person wanting to leave and the other person “loving them enough” to let them leave, which never made sense to me. If someone wanted to leave you, why would you try to keep them from it, and how successful would you be if you did? But I think there are other ways in which this is more accurate.
I’ve discovered that introverts often need time alone (it took many years of marriage to recognize this foreign trait). And when my husband is in need of solitude and doesn’t get it, he starts to push me away with his attitude; being grumpy, even more untalkative and closed, engaging in solitary habits like reading, etc. Initially I took this as a sign that he didn’t want me any more and worked hard to make him want me. I also became clingy, trying to gain his attention which only made him need space more. The best way for me to love him in that situation is to let him have his time alone, that time to recharge. Then he will be ready to spend time with me again.
Another way this is true is with “prodigals,” those people in our lives who may be living any where from “not quite the way they should” to full out rebellion. They are people that we love and can see are going to hurt themselves and those around them with their selfishness. We often try to nudge them in the right direction with Bible verses and quotes, recommending books to “bring them back”.
Unfortunately, all our “help” is keeping them from it, either by pushing them away or keeping God from getting to them. One of my favorite quotes by Oswald Chambers, “Are we so noisy in our instruction of other people that God cannot get near them?” shows the situation truly. Often what that person needs is to see where they truly are in relation to God. They need to “come to the end” of themselves to see their need for Him. But our constant prodding keeps them from reaching that point.
Of course, “the end” is not a very nice place and will probably cause a lot of suffering which we would all prefer to avoid, but that is often the only way to truly get out of it. We need to love that person enough to let them get there, to let God get a hold of them in a place where He is all they can see and hear.
This is especially true in prayer. We need to stop protecting them, stop praying for the outcome we want, and ask for God’s will in their lives. Picture it as standing in front of that person, between them and God, when you are praying for their rescue. Don’t stop praying, but get out of God’s way so that He can get to them. Give Him room to work. And cling to God instead.