We talk a lot about change. When we say ‘change’, we are really saying ‘improvement’, or at least what we think will be something better. Why change if the result is worse?
Change is difficult. More so when we are talking about changing a relationship. Relationships involve at least two people. They can significantly change when one person in the relationship changes, but they can be radically transformed when both do.
There are two common mistakes we make when it comes to changing a relationship. The first is demanding the other person change while thinking we need none. The second is changing ourselves with the expectation that the other will change once they see we have.
We shared Laura’s Story in an earlier post. Laura made the first mistake. She demanded change early in her marriage. When it did not happen, she became angry and bitter. Later, actually much later, too late, she realized that she was the only person she could change. That doesn’t mean her husband didn’t need to change – I suspect he was more responsible than she for the problems in their marriage. But Laura made an important discovery we can learn from.
The second mistake seems to be epidemic when disconnected men discover their disconnection and start making changes. I made it at first. We expect that since we are changing, our spouses should recognize our efforts and start working on themselves. It’s a foolish expectation and one that is easily interpreted as prideful.
Both mistakes end up making the relationship worse than it was. How can we do change better?
The key is me. The single most important lesson I’ve learned after discovering my own sinful relational habits and those of others who have shared their stories is this:
Change means me becoming more like Jesus, regardless of the consequences.
I’m called to be transformed into someone who acts and responds like Jesus, regardless of the actions or responses of anyone else. And there will be actions, responses, and consequences from others when they see change. Some will be positive, many will be negative.
Some will forgive, accept, become more patient, and love you through the difficulties of change. Pray that God surrounds you with folks like this but don’t expect it. Jesus wasn’t surrounded by these types. He didn’t need to change, He was perfect. The closer you get to Him, the more you can expect to be treated like He was. You will be called fake, prideful, a liar, a manipulator, and worse. You will be ignored, argued with, hated, insulted, screamed at, and possibly beaten. You will probably not be killed like He was, but may be tempted to think death a better option than the response you’ll endure.
None of this should deter you. Nothing deterred Jesus from His calling. Becoming a person who cannot be deterred is the difficulty. Even Jesus struggled. Think of His pain and pleading in the Garden. He said, ‘My soul is swallowed up in sorrow – to the point of death.’ (Matthew 26:38) It may hurt that much. How did Jesus endure?
The secret is found in Hebrews 12. I return to this passage over and over. I have referenced it often. I use it when I counsel men. I quote it to myself. I show it to anyone struggling with change. I’ve written about it many times. I don’t mind repeating it. I’ve copied the entire passage below and added some headlines to point out the actions/attitudes we can strive for in becoming like Jesus in the matter of determination.
I believe if we make this passage our meditation while we strive for change, we will find ourselves identifying more and more with Jesus and becoming more and more like Him. I suggest you take a few days, maybe make a fourteen day meditation since there are fourteen observations and let these sink deeply into your heart! This is how change happens.
Do all these regardless of the response of others!
1. Forcefully subdue anything that hinders you
Vs. 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,
2. Train for a self-denying marathon
Vs. 1 and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
3. Focus constantly on Jesus
Vs. 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,
4. Realize that the key to endurance is future joy
Vs. 2 who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
5. Allow yourself to despise the shame without despising people
Vs. 2 despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
6. Strengthen your determination by concentrating on the hostility Jesus endured
Vs. 3-4 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
7. Remind yourself that discipline is God loving His children
Vs. 5-6 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
8. Prepare yourself to endure the difficulty of discipline
Vs. 7-9 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
9. Realize that the result of discipline is holiness (being set apart as the object of God’s love) and righteousness (being made acceptable to God)
Vs. 10-11 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
10. Talk to yourself, tell your hands to get busy, your knees to strengthen up, and your feet to walk straight (Your self-talk is actually your spiritual determination to do the right thing. Making your body, figuratively, perk up will help your spirit follow)
Vs. 12-13 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
11. Exert yourself toward peace and holiness (relationship healer)
Vs. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
12. Kill bitterness or it will kill you and others (relationship killer)
Vs. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
13. Kill sexual impurity (relationship killer)
Vs. 16 that no one is sexually immoral
14. Kill selfishness and disregard for God’s gifts (relationship killer)
Vs. 16-17 or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
If we are occupied 24/7 with these thoughts, actions, and attitudes we simply won’t have time to be distracted by the expectations or reactions of others. If others choose to join us in this pursuit then we will have the joy of companionship. If they choose not to (even if they are our spouse) we will grieve, but we will not give in. We will love like Jesus loved – through insult and abuse, through misunderstanding and injury, to the end, and for the joy of the Lord!