Sometimes my wife and I fall into the trap of putting each other on guilt trips. Maybe she wants me to help out around the house, so she reminds me of how much time she has spent taking care of the kids. Or maybe I want a break to do something I enjoy (like writing), so I remind her how much I’ve been doing at the office. We’re trying to get away from that.
I realize all of us regularly do this kind of thing. I’ve had to politely step in when adults try to guilt my kids into giving them affection (“You’re going to make me sad if I don’t get a hug.”). And I’ve known plenty of people who try to control others and get upset when the person resists (“You don’t understand that I’m only doing this because I love you.”). It can get pretty weird.
You’ve got to keep an eye out for relationships where you’re regularly putting others on guilt trips to get what you want. It’s basically an attempt to manipulate people into giving something they probably don’t wholeheartedly want to give. And the sad thing is that it actually works a lot of the time because people are so afraid of conflict and so desperate for approval.
But when we guilt trip others, it’s not only relationally toxic, it’s ungodly. Second Corinthians 9:7 (NLT) says, “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.'”
We need to give people room to decide whether they want to give. If they don’t, we need to respect their decision. And we also need to give ourselves permission to say no and only give cheerfully. It’s risky though.
If we offer people total freedom to give or withhold, we’re more likely to find out exactly how strong our relationships with them really are. We might discover that our friends, spouses, children, or coworkers are actually pretty selfish and don’t care that much about us. But we might also find that, when given the opportunity, those same people are more likely to give when they don’t feel like they’re being forced into it.
Healthy relationships are based on that kind of no-strings-attached giving. And as hard as it may be to wait for people to love us in their time, it’s a great way to imitate Christ. After all, that’s the kind of love He offers and asks for every day.