Where did Mark go from rock bottom? This post covers the positive steps he took to get out of the spiral.
Relationships start with your heart.
We tend to look outwardly when we think of relationships. We analyze the other person in the relationship. And we see his or her qualities, good and bad. We size those qualities up to determine if the relationship can be maintained and enjoyed. The concentration is on them – instead of ourselves. One of the chief reasons we don’t have good relationships is that we have hearts ill-fitted for them. Outward hearts, not inward hearts.
Last post we talked about the log, or the sins in our own lives. They have to be dealt with first. Mark didn’t know how to go about making all the changes to his heart he needed, so we started with one word of caution in the form of a question. Was Mark willing to submit himself to the changes God wanted to make in him without any expectation that his wife would accept them? In other words, was Mark willing to change for God even if his wife decided ultimately to reject him?
This is a crucial question. Changing for sake of another person is noble but may not last.
Changing for sake of another person is noble but may not last.
Allowing God to do a destructive renovation of our old selves in order to build something new will last and bear fruit eternally. When God does the remodeling, we can count on it to last.
Mark was ready to say yes to that question. Even if his wife rejected him, he felt he could no longer be the man he had been.
Being ready meant that he could no longer consider his wife’s faults. Her stuff was off the table. It was his heart we were dealing with. And he needed some steps to take. Some practical reminders of how he could change. These look different for each person but there are some general things to consider. Here’s what we decided on for Mark and may work for you.
Here’s what we decided on for Mark and may work for you.
Define Change: Mark had to know what it was he needed to change. He had to have a definition before he could work toward it. In Mark’s case, as with other disconnected men, he defined change as becoming a man who could be transparent with his inner self while seeking to understand the inner selves of others. he defined change as becoming a man who could be transparent with his inner self while seeking to understand the inner selves of others.
he defined change as becoming a man who could be transparent with his inner self while seeking to understand the inner selves of others.
Not an easy task for men like Mark who have spent their lives in a relatively unemotional bliss. They haven’t felt emotions deeply because emotions get in the way of getting things done. They haven’t hurt when others hurt or experienced joy when others do.
Once defined though, he had to have a way to know he was becoming transparent and really feeling the hurts and joys of others. Next step.
Accountability: How can a man who hasn’t shared his soul or sensed the souls of others become able to do so? I gave Mark the assignment to gather to himself godly men who would tell him the truth and teach him how to connect. I encouraged him to find couples who have great relationships where both feel loved and have them speak into his life.
The most important part of this assignment was to explain what his goal was and give them permission to tell him when he was being disconnected or dismissive of another’s person or emotions. Something disconnected men struggle to know! He had to allow them to tell him straight up when he wasn’t getting it.
Allowing others to tell us when we are being a knucklehead or clueless or rude is difficult. But Mark was ready to humble himself and allow others to teach him.
Humility: Another very important step toward change is to allow the pain of others to hurt you. This takes humility and much prayer. Instead of finding their faults we have to feel their pain. Especially the pain we cause them.
Mark did this and felt his wife’s pain very keenly. He has been able to say that he has become miserable when thinking about her grief. As I shared in a previous post, he has felt like a monster. Mark never wanted to hurt anyone and to realize he had, and so violently and deeply, has caused him to repent over and over as the memories of his behavior flooded back to him.
Another very important step toward change is to allow the pain of others to hurt you.
And that brings us to another practical step.
Repentance: This is a concept our society has buried deep in the old relics pile. We think ‘repent’ is a word that’s only fit to put into the mouth of some crusty and bitter boney-fingered old preacher as a bit-part in a movie. We hate that character because he is without grace, self-righteous, and angry. At least that’s the normal interpretation of anyone who would use the word ‘repent’ these days.
But repentance is simple, and beautiful. People do it all the time. We repent when we’ve said something harsh we didn’t mean. We intend not to do that again. That’s repentance.
The difficult part about repentance is learning how not to repeat the things we repent of. In Mark’s case the list was long. Some bitterness had crept in. Anger at the misunderstandings. Dissatisfaction with the way she did things. Some things he had said in the wrong tone or at the wrong time. Distance he kept. And many other things that God brought up and reminded him of. He spent a lot of time repenting.
Repentance is good, but not complete. When we repent of something we are saying that we intend not to repeat the behavior we repented of. It’s not that easy. When we repent we are sort of taking something away which leaves a hole. An old behavior we defaulted to was taking some space in our hearts.
Think of it this way, if someone has a cancerous tumor that needs to be removed, the doctor can’t simply take the tumor out and leave a hole in the person. He has to bring the wound back together and stitch everything up so it can heal. When we repent we have to close the hole or the gap where that bad behavior was. The best way to do this is with behavior that is opposite what we repented of.
Replacement: If we used to get angry when someone did a certain thing, and we repent, we must replace that anger with a new emotion. Otherwise the hole will get filled again with anger. One of the opposites of anger is patience. Another is sympathy. Another understanding. There are more.
Mark had to learn to replace anger with an emotion that showed love. For everything he repented of, he had to find a replacement. For times when he withdrew in order to protect his fragile emotions, he had to engage in a way that showed love. When he couldn’t connect with his wife’s heart, he had to be honest instead of trying to fake it. You get the picture.
Mark failed a lot. But he kept trying. He is still working at this and figures it will be a lifelong pursuit to get it right. He does realize though that replacing bad behavior with love and attempts to connect is the right thing to do. Remembering to do it is the hard part, especially in the heat of the moment. That’s why Mark needed this last step.
Reminders: We all need reminders to do the right thing. It’s why we have the Bible, go to church. It’s why Mark needs his friends to keep him accountable. And it’s why we set alarm clocks and keep calendars. We forget, so we need reminders.
Reminding ourselves to replace bad reactions with good is one of the most important things we can ever do.
Reminding ourselves to replace bad reactions with good is one of the most important things we can ever do. Perfect this and we become truly loving people. The absolute best way to ensure we get the reminders we need is through Bible study and prayer. The Bible says this,
‘For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.’ Hebrews 4:12-13
We can’t always trust ourselves to know what needs to change within us, nor how to replace the old with the new. But the Bible will do it for us. The Holy Spirit speaks to our spirits when we read the Bible. He discerns the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. He exposes us for who we really are. And then He offers grace and help to correct those things.
Consistent and diligent study of the Bible will remind us better than anything else. Asking God in prayer to help us cooperate with His Spirit to correct what we see in the mirror of the Bible will help us take action. Taking action is a lifelong struggle and joy.
These are the items Mark and I discussed and he has been working on. They have had a great effect. Next post I’ll share with you how he’s doing.