My wife and I recently had one of those unpleasant, conflict-related experiences which are fun to laugh about later, but are not at all funny at the moment. I’m not actually sure we’re at the laughing stage yet, but as a therapeutic measure, I’m going to go ahead and tell the story (yes, I have my wife’s permission).
While guests in someone else’s home, my wife and I got into a disagreement that started when I decided to criticize my wife regarding something that I can’t even remember now. The disagreement turned into an argument, and I suggested that we go to the guest room so I could ramble on and on about my petty grievance. There in the room, we went back and forth in a spirited match of verbal ping pong until my wife suddenly stopped and said, “The baby monitor is right next to you, Joshua.”
This was significant, because the other end of the baby monitor was sitting in the living room and both of our hosts were in the house. I was unfazed.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “I turned it off right before we came in here.” And without missing a beat, I continued rehashing my grievance until we both wore ourselves out and just agreed to be mutually disagreeable.
My wife then left the room, but then all too quickly, she immediately returned and said, with remarkable composure, “I just went to the living room. You didn’t turn the baby monitor to the off position – you turned it to voice activation.”
“Did they hear us?” I asked, making a poor attempt at trying to play it cool while realizing that I had been sitting about a foot from the monitor during our spat.
“I don’t know,” she said. “No one’s in there now, but they had to have heard us,” she said with irritation. “This is so embarrassing.”
She was right. It was embarrassing – or was it? I began scheming a way to figure out whether we had broadcast our reality radio program into the ears of our hosts. I felt exposed and ashamed, yet still hopeful that we hadn’t been heard. She sighed, and we both fiddled around in the room, quietly wondering just how much our hosts had learned about us that day.
Later on, the mystery remained unsolved; but I eventually stopped wondering whether we had been overheard and began to wonder why I had so desperately felt the need to point out my irritation with my wife that day. And then it occurred to me, this habit of mine unfortunately isn’t a one-day thing. Nope, despite the fact that my wife says I’m her biggest cheerleader, I realized that, all too often, I quite freely point out areas where I would like to fine-tune my wife’s weaknesses.
And it’s not like I’m dealing with some train wreck of a wife – she may have her handful of faults, but they pale in comparison to her virtues. I’m telling you, this woman is beautiful (inside and out); she has the most forgiving spirit you’ve ever encountered; she has faith that moves mountains; and when she walks into a room, she still gives me butterflies. Yet for some reason, despite the privilege of living with this precious lady, it’s like I think I’m simultaneously called to be her husband and life coach.
Yet, if I want to walk as a believer in Christ, I’m not called to perpetually note the faults of others. In fact, I’m told to “[m]ake allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13 (NLT). I’m not a Bible scholar, but somehow I don’t think “making allowance for each other’s faults” can be translated to mean, “Help those around you see how broken they are by regularly making note of how they’re grating on your nerves – just make sure you do it with diplomacy.”
No, in fact, Jesus gave us a succinct, three-point plan for confrontation, a plan that forces us to really ask if a person’s fault is even worth bringing up. In Matthew 8:15-17, we told that if we’re offended by another believer, we must do the following:
- Take the offense to the offender personally, and give them an opportunity to see their fault and resolve it right then.
- If the offender shrugs you off, then you take someone else with you to help the offender see just how serious the fault is.
- If the offender still shrugs you off, then you announce it to your whole community of believers (ahhhhk-waaard!). If the person still won’t respond, everyone is supposed to treat them as if the offender never believed in Jesus in the first place and, I presume, show the offender the kind of respect and love that they should an unbeliever.
I look at this simple, but revolutionary, model for confrontation and I realize Jesus is trying to teach all of us (especially me) a number of things.
First, if we really need to point out someone’s fault, it had better be significant enough to dramatically escalate the confrontation to the point of public rebuke. That weeds out about 98% of the things about which I make snippy criticisms of my wife.
Second, if there really is a fault that is significant enough to escalate the confrontation that far, it’s going to take face-to-face courage and a community of support to deal with the issue.
Third, and finally, if we’re going to live in peace with people who are imperfect, we are going to have to find ways to kindly tell them what we need from them without using it as an opportunity to tell them what we think is wrong with them.
I think it’s important for me to close by noting that I have just recently, on and off, begun giving this a shot – that is, keeping my criticisms to myself or just telling my wife what I need.
I hate to admit that it isn’t coming naturally at all, but I can say that in those moments when I have chosen to love my wife and stop acting like I’m there to keep her weaknesses in check, life is so much easier. It feels like walking away from a totally unrewarding, part-time job for which I don’t get paid and which does no one any good. And, in backing away from petty finger-pointing, I find I’m seeing all of her lovely qualities with better clarity.
With all that in mind, it is my prayer that, in the early years of my marriage, I would go ahead and just turn in my life coach uniform and, in the words of scripture, perpetually “clothe myself with love” instead. Colossians 3:14 (NLT). I can’t imagine what a blessing it will eventually be to my wife, but hopefully she will be able to experience it more and more in the coming years. God help me.