I’ll never forget my high school Physics class. We were four weeks into the first semester and the whole class was struggling. After a few disappointing quizzes, the first test proved dismal. The highest grade was a C. (And for the record, sadly that wasn’t mine.) I was particularly anxious about passing the class and I still have nightmares about it to this day—no joke. After discussing the horrible tests with us, our teacher decreed that she would throw out the test and quiz results and start over. That was a very refreshing reset: a new beginning for our class.
Perhaps in your homes right now, you’re seeing a lot of relational challenges and like my high school Physics class: a reset that will renew hope, confidence, and purpose seems like a pretty good idea.
Hope can be achieved through a reset! This reset can come by way of a change of perspective about how we approach family life. We typically look at life in a way that reduces it merely to right and wrong. What does the Bible say about marriage? What does the Bible say about raising children? For sure, we need to do seek and apply God’s wisdom. But there is often something missing that makes the difference between defeat and endurance that begins to see lasting change take place.
This change of perspective goes back to the foundation of the gospel itself. The gospel is more than the message that our sins are forgiven in Christ. Indeed, it is that. But it is more! Through the gospel, we learn all that God has done to help us live for him. This includes a new identity in Christ that we have been given that profoundly demonstrates God’s love.
Let’s take a very brief look at just a sample of what this identity includes: we are redeemed, adopted by God, hidden in Christ; made righteous, holy, blameless. We are dead to sin and alive to God, set free, and no longer under condemnation. (Download an A-Z List of our Identity in Christ).
Our identity is woven throughout the Bible and is intended to provide us with great joy and serves as a powerful motive for living the Christian life. Living out of joy in God is crucial to living for his glory and it is a far more effective tool than fear and guilt in our relationships.
Once you see these statements in your study of the Bible it will revolutionize your walk with God. It will change your perspective on living for him from one of oppressive obligation to glorious grace.
When we see how much God loves us, we will in turn love him and love others.
Whether it is making a simple weekend plan or figuring out exactly how to help someone struggling with fear, worry or anxiety; we can quickly get frustrated. Our identity as ambassadors for Jesus Christ who speak grace according to the need of the moment, can instantly degrade into something like Genghis Kahn demanding food after a long day of marauding the countryside. Bringing clarity and resolution to the issues in our hearts is not turn-key. Wisdom, discernment, and understanding are needed but those usually require more time. Where do you start? How do you minister in the moment especially if you’re short on time? Here is a helpful little diagnostic tool that quickly brings initial clarity and a way forward.
It is what I call the “1 to 10 scale”. Sophisticated isn’t it? To bring definition to an otherwise complicated, and sometimes emotional situation, especially when time is short I will sometimes ask, “On a 1-10 scale, 1 being good, 10 being bad… how do you feel about the situation?” Or, I might say, “Rate each of the three issues you are struggling with.” Or, “Over the past two weeks, how intense has your struggle been with this?”
If someone is struggling with fear, worry, and anxiety. I will ask, “On the WAF scale (worry, anxiety, and fear) where are you? A “1, 2, or 3” answer means the issue is not exigent. I can give a word of encouragement, pray about it with them and move on–but come back to it. On the other hand, an “8, 9, or 10” means that I need to take time for a fuller conversation now or soon.
When trying to communicate, I find the scale extremely helpful. When I can’t figure out exactly how one feels about something such as a career path or how one feels about a particular friend for example, a number is quite helpful in cutting through the conflicting emotions and forces a clearer idea of the intensity of the struggle.
Certainly, it would be counterproductive to reduce all such conversations to the 1-10 scale. This is only a diagnostic tool. But it is helpful tool at certain times. While it is not sufficient to deal with most situations, it is a decent barometer for discernment, understanding, and formulating a word of grace in the moment.
It is 11:59 PM. You’re exhausted. But the conversation with your teenager (or spouse) has now drug on for 48 harried minutes. Despite your generous investment of time and attention, it is clear that the issue on the table is about as clear as a London fog.
We know that these conversations are an inevitable part of life in a fallen world. It is easy to grow weary of them and tune out or avoid them altogether. But they can be part of good relationship development. We learn a lot about others and most especially—ourselves—through them.
Wouldn’t it be nice to figure out a way to burn through the fog? Refocusing our attention on the cause of the issue or conflict (whichever) that lies beneath these conversations can help reduce the duration and frequency of these conversations so that they are more redemptive. Here’s how.
To begin, there is no formula. I apologize if you thought I was going to give you one! (Faith is not a formula but it doesn’t stop us from hedonistically searching for formulas, does it?) What I’m going to share with you is something more fundamental that cannot be replaced with a mere on-demand formula although it can also be helpful in the moment.
Desires Drive Life
The issues of our lives—that cause conflicts and those squirrely conversations!—are the passions, or desires that are idolatrous and rule our hearts. Luke 6:55 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
“Evil treasure” can also be described as deceitful desire or evil desires as we see in Ephesians 4:22 and Colossians 3:5 (respectively). “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry.”
Desires Can Become Demands
Most desires are not inherently sinful but become idolatrous when they depend on something or someone other than God for fulfillment. For example, a desire for the delicious taste of mint chocolate chip ice cream is not a bad thing in itself. But what happens if you go to the store and they are out—or worse, they don’t have green mint chocolate chip but only the white kind? Do you get angry about it? Getting angry is a sign that the desire has indeed become idolatrous. Another example could be a desire for a secure future. You have diligently saved and invested wisely. But there’s a market correction and your portfolio loses 40% of its value. How do you respond? Ultimately, our response reveals where our trust really is. If it is really in the portfolio then fear and anxiety will overcome us. If however it is really looking to God, then amid the conflicting emotions will emerge obedient rest in God despite the loss.
The issues of life are fundamentally desire-driven. This represents a challenge for us, especially as parents. Are we merely training our children to “do what is right?” Or, are we getting to the real heart of the issue which is the often stealthy desires that have driven those actions? Actions are merely the flower, the desires are the root. Based on how we parent, would our kids say that doing the right thing is more important than doing it for the right reason?
If desires are the problem, then what are doing about them? First, desires are always directing us. They never rest. Perhaps putting it that way is enlightening? If desires are always at work, then it is appropriate to discuss them at any time. We rarely evaluate ourselves or discuss desires with others this intently. The second thing we can do then is to get into the habit of discussing desires.
Talk More About Desires
One day a few weeks ago, I took one of my teenage sons on some errands. Actually, now that I think about it, it was—his—errand! Anyway, he was talking quite passionately about a particular interest of his. (If my van were electric, I could have plugged him into the engine and saved a lot of gas.) At the end of what was at least an 8-minute monolog, I simply said, “WOW. You have strong desires!” Then we had a good discussion about desires. Nothing my son said that day was sinful. He did nothing wrong. But in the moment, the opportunity presented itself simply to draw attention to this fact.
It is good that—especially in normal, non-confrontational conversation—that we talk about our desires so that we can begin to be more attentive to their presence, identify them, and connect them to our behavior more readily. In normal and stressed conversations asking the question, “Why?” is a great tool that allows you to cut through the fog and reach the desire level.
Dealing With Actions on the Desire Level Provides Hope
Talking about desires prepares us to be able to deal more effectively with those issues especially when they come up at midnight and you are not in the mood for a 48 minute game of mental hopscotch. This is not hard to understand. However, the things that are simple to understand can sometimes be the hardest to do because they require intentionality and usually more of our time. But we must remember that our investiture pays off because this is what God has said is our core problem. Addressing the core problem as God defines it gives us tremendous hope that better days are ahead and confidence that we, in all of our weakness, can be God’s instruments in each other’s lives!
It was one of those conversations where Leslee and I could not seem to understand each other. Though calm, things were not going swimmingly. When she said the sky was purple, I responded that the moon was made of cheese. (At least it seemed that way).
We were trying to dig our way out of a quarry of boulders including why Leslee can’t sleep between 1 am and 3 am, what to do next about two children’s health struggles, menu planning, time to shop for groceries, whether or not one of our boys should play flag football in the spring or play soccer with his older brother in the fall, and why I am too distracted with the meteorites in my own solar system to have time to talk. Yes! We were trying to deal with all of these in—one—conversation.
These are conversations of some alien kind that seem to resemble a scene from Star Wars more than the preferred Norman Rockwell painting. Yes, it seems a lot like a war—and it is—even if there are not raised voices and red faces.
What can be done to help us in these galactic conversations? May I suggest three simple things?
Realize That We Are in a War
First, remember that we are in a spiritual war. Paul reminds us in 2 Cor. 2:11 that we are not ignorant of the devil’s schemes. One of these schemes is to blind us to the reality that we are in a spiritual war against adept evil, spiritual forces (Eph. 6:10-12). It is no accident that Paul talks about spiritual warfare immediately after he talks about husband/wife, parent/child, and work relationships.
Our relationships are usually the battle fields on which this clandestine war plays out. While we are players, the war is ultimately between two kingdoms: a kingdom of light ruled by Almighty God and a kingdom of darkness ruled by Satan (Col. 1:13). Praise the Lord that we can rest knowing that for those who are united by faith in Christ, the war is already won in Christ (John 16:33, Rom. 8:37, Eph. 2:6). In fact, God takes the evil thoughts, words and deeds and is able to use them to do good in our lives (Gen. 45:4-9, 50:20; Rom. 8:28-30). This is as miraculous as it is hope-inducing.
Remembering that we are in a war provides perspective in the moment—and relief through the divinely powerful weapons God has provided, two of which I am now going to mention.
Speak The Powerful Word of God
Quote the word of God to each other. The word of God is one of our weapons (Eph. 6:17). Jesus used this weapon in fighting Satan’s temptations in Matthew 4. The promises in God’s word are divinely powerful and we do well to remember to speak them to each other. This is not what one feels like doing in that moment. But faithfully speaking God’s promises in distressing situations brings peace because God’s word is powerful and it is infallible: it never fails.
While this does not usually fix the specific issues, it does bring peace and the ability to work together—even if it means peacefully ending the conversation and coming back to it at another time. There has never been a moment when I’ve used the word in one of these conversations where it did not bring peace.
One helpful promise is Habbakuk 3:17, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and here be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
When everything seems like its collapsing around us, we can look up in victory because God IS. God will see us through the battles.
Pray Out Loud, Each of You
Finally, pray together. Prayer, even weak prayer, is still a vital weapon. Paul says to pray at all times in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18). When in one of these difficult conversations just stop and pray together. Not one of you, but both, and out loud. Again, it is probably not what you feel like doing. Just be honest! God knows your heart anyway. Doing this is a clear exercise of faith and dependence upon God that glorifies him.
Confess your sin to God. Maybe its a desire to rely on yourself rather than to rely on him in that moment. Remind God of his promises. Beseech Him to act by bringing understanding and peace. This is also a good time to pray in thanksgiving to God (Phil. 4:6). We can be thankful the issues we’re dealing with are not worse. We can be thankful that God has promised to be the third strand in our marriages (Eccl. 4:12).
These are three simple suggestions that will have a powerful impact in the war that we all find ourselves every day. I encourage you to use them with the expectation that God keeps his promises and works all things out for his glory which is also our joy. Fight using the tools he has given. See the victory he can provide. You can win the battle because Christ Jesus has won the war. We stand in his victory.
- Listen to him. Surprise! Men need to talk things through, too. If we’re not careful, conversations with our husbands can look like a game of wack-a-mole where we are beating down every word that comes out of their mouths! Whether it’s a challenge at work or a suggestion he has about how to re-organize the kitchen: hear him out.
Tonight, I thought my husband was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a nice restaurant for dinner. I was shopping with friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment on it. Conversation wasn’t flowing, so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed, but he didn’t say much. I asked him what was wrong; He said ‘Nothing.’ I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said he wasn’t upset, that it had nothing to do with me, and not to worry about it. On the way home, I told him that I loved him. He smiled slightly and kept driving. I can’t explain his behavior I don’t know why he didn’t say ‘I love you too.’ When we got home, I felt as if I had lost him completely, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there quietly, and watched TV. He continued to seem distant and absent. Finally with silence all around us, I decided to go to bed. About 15 minutes he came to bed. But I still felt that he was distracted and his thoughts were somewhere else. He fell asleep- I cried. I don’t know what to do. I’m almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster.
Motorcycle won’t start, can’t figure out why.
5. Finally, tell him the truth. What I am referring to here is reminding him of the truth of the Gospel. We are all surrounded by discouragement and stress everyday. We all need to be reminded of our identity in Christ as it provides the basis for living for him! If you haven’t already, check out our resource Who are you? as it encourages simple meditation on our identity in Christ and can guide you in praying for your husband and others.