Forcing Someone to Change Will Blow Up Your Relationship

Forcing Someone to Change Will Blow Up Your Relationship

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Will you test yourself before you read this chapter? What are your thoughts toward those you would like to see change, especially those not responding the way you hoped they would? My aim is for you to consider the motives and methods you employ when motivating someone to change. If we do not have a proper motive, it will affect our methods, even tempting us to demand or manipulate someone to change while never considering how out of tune we are with God and the narrative He is writing for the unchanging person.

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Patient With All

As you reflect on my question, will you consider these two also? Are you generally impatient toward the person you want to see change? Are you easily frustrated, critical, unforgiving, bitter, or fearful toward an unchanging person? There are more questions I could ask, but these are enough to help you assess your heart toward those you care about and want to assist. If our hearts are not right toward those in our care, the first thing for us to change is ourselves. We cannot export what we don’t possess; if we’re not right with God, whether it’s our motive or method, we may botch our efforts to help them get right with God.

Being redemptive in other people’s lives starts in our hearts, not theirs. If your habit is to assess your heart before you speak, you’re in a great spot. James talked about being “slow to speak,” a great discipline when discipling folks. I work to be that way with others, especially my family members. The people in our care are unlike us, and God is doing something different in their lives. The common temptation is to map our experiences over them, accelerating our expectations for them, which can sabotage our best efforts. Let me explain with my friend Biff.

Biff knows how to get things done. He is a successful guy. His reputation and business are well-known in the community. People like him and come to him to learn his secret sauce for success. On the surface, nothing is wrong with what you see in Biff, but after you get to know him, you do not want to partake in his secret sauce. Biff is a controller who demands his employees do things his way. His methods work because his employees need a job. They will put up with Biff as long as he pays them well. So, Biff keeps churning along, raking in the dough. Though he is a “success” on the business front, he is a frustrated and unsuccessful husband, father, and friend. His work methods do not export well to his home life. His attempts to motivate his family members are poorly received because they are more forced than nurtured. His lack of success in the home confuses Biff because he knows he is right. For example, he wants a loving wife and obedient children.

Plant and Water

Biff told me, “What’s wrong with that? This is what God wants.” I responded, “It may be what God wants, but God does not force righteousness on anyone. The Lord creates contexts of grace and invites people into those spaces while motivating them with grace.” The “hardcore law method” that Biff is implementing does not motivate people to change—at least not for the right reasons or in long-term sustainable ways. His methods do the opposite: They discourage and exasperate people. The Lord’s “grace method” motivates people to choose righteousness. God does not demand our obedience or impose it upon us as though the only thing that matters is results. The Lord keeps the end goal in mind (Hebrews 12:1-2), using biblical methods that lead to that end.

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Romans 2:4)?

Our loving, heavenly Father could have accomplished His purposes for us without us. I suppose. He could have made us righteous, but by doing so, it would have marginalized our relationship with Him. Our relationships would be more robotic than human/divine reciprocality. Biff prefers the robot approach with his employees and family. He wants hard-wired hired hands to accomplish his goals—a strategy that is blowing up his family. His employees won’t leave because they need a job, but his children are not as obligated or bound. They won’t leave now because they are young, and his wife is unwilling to divorce—at least not today.

Biff has put his family between a rock and a hard place. The “rock” is that he wants them to be how he legislates. The hard place is how they resist what he wants, and he cannot legislate his mandates. The tension in the home moves between uneasy peace and explosive anger. It has yet to occur to Biff how his outcome was never meant to be his to determine (1 Corinthians 3:6). God has not called us to determine the outcome with people but to trust Him for those results, even if the results are not to our liking. God has called us to faithfully and gratefully work the process while leaving the outcome to Him. The problem is that Biff wants to plant, water, and manage, manipulate, and mandate the growth. James would call Biff arrogant. (See James 4:13-16)

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Do As I Say

A man who tries to control the process and the outcome does not need God because he is a god. There is no room in Biff’s world for God because Biff has everything under control—at least, that is the illusion he wants to perpetuate. The problem is that Biff is not a good god. Many of his employees are angry with him, his wife is mad at him, and his children are growing in resentment by the day, which will turn into rebellion once they become courageous enough to share their true thoughts with him. This tragedy happens in many marriages and family debacles when one person—usually a parent—believes they know how things should be.

They mandate the outcome based on their belief, inevitably leading to disaster. I suspect most of the time, the parent is correct in what they believe and want to do, though their rightness is not in debate here. The problem is when the parent tries to mandate righteousness on the family. The parent may be sincerely trying to avert dangers and disasters they see gathering on the horizon of the child’s life but legislating morality is a multifaceted problem that needs divine perspective and intervention. Parents are not omniscient: they do not have God’s full mind on the issues (Isaiah 55:8-9). The legislative parent does not understand how God can use sin sinlessly to accomplish His good purposes (Genesis 50:20).

Self-reliance rather than God-reliance is a natural temptation for all parents (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Parents genuinely do not want their loved ones to suffer, a prospect that is impossible to avoid (Genesis 3:7-19). Some parents have yet to learn how God perfects His strength in our weaknesses. Sometimes God has to weaken a child to display His power through the child (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 4:7, 12:7-10). Biff can get away with his tactics and strategies at work because his employees will do things his way, or they will leave. Biff has bought into his culture’s view of success. It’s called a win. (Jesus dying on a tree was a “win,” too.) Biff can’t get away with running roughshod over his family. His bad habits create a blind spot. His reaction leaves him with three options: hire robots, change how he treats people, or continue living in familial dysfunction while alienating himself from everyone important to him.

Robot for Hire

If he hires robots for work and marries one for home, he can program them to do what he wants. It would be a “perfect” world. If there were anything he did not like about his Robo World or if he made a mistake (not likely) or came to understand things differently (an anomaly), he could upgrade to 2.0, 3.0, or 4.0. He could create an infinite number of iterations to have new and improved workers, an ever-improving wife, and always compliant children. He could accomplish his goals with little relational angst, effort, or challenges. Of course, there is at least one problem with this schema: God wants relationships, not robots for hire, even though the Lord knew those relationships would always be messy.

God understands the doctrines of salvation and progressive sanctification. He will take any person at any time—just as they are—and relate to them in such a way that motivates them toward change. He also gives us room to wobble. The Lord patiently works the change process without mandating artificial timelines for change. Though He is a bottom-line Being: He wants Christlike results, and He is aware of the process. One of the blessings here is how it deepens our relationship with God. The ongoing process of change gives Him opportunities to demonstrate His love to us, even while we are imperfectly following Him (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 11:1). He does not respond to us according to what we deserve; He provides love ad infinitum (Psalm 103:10-14; Romans 5:8).

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Playing in the Dirt

The word Adam means red man or man of the dirt (Genesis 2:7). We are dust (Psalm 103:14). I am a dirt clod, and you are too. The Lord knows this because He created Adam. God loves playing in the dirt, and He knows His audience intimately well (John 2:24-25). He knows life is not about present perfection but a process that matures within a context of loving leadership that moves us into ever-unfolding Christlikeness. Do you see dirty friends and family members as opportunities to cooperate with God to shape them for His glory (2 Corinthians 4:7)? Are you tempted to manipulate the clay pots in your life according to your preferences rather than trusting the Lord?

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Paul talked about people’s differences when he wrote to the Thessalonians. He wanted to make sure they understood how different people are and how treating everybody the same way would be wrong. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 has three people groups: the unruly, the small-souled, and the physically or mentally challenged. Also, notice how he closes his appeal by saying they should be patient with all of them. Paul was not talking about the result but the process of imperfect plodding people making their way toward what we hope would be Christlikeness.

Paul’s appeal is even more critical regarding our wives, children, close friends, and our local churches. Everybody is different; each person requires specialized and customized attention. Cooperating with God in the transformation of others is a fantastic honor. Suppose our primary focus is the result of the process, and our methods do not matter. In that case, there is a good chance we will miss the blessing of engaging our friends in mutually beneficial transformational opportunities that will elevate the fame of Jesus while maturing our relationships.

Addendum for Spouses

Did you know your spouse is a double-damaged person? Your spouse was born in sin and had parents born in sin. It’s a double-whammy—coming from Adam and parented by Adamic people. You received double damaged goods when you married your spouse. No matter how great their parents were, they were not perfect, and your spouse did not arrive at the altar entirely sanctified. More than likely, there are traces of residual problems that Adam and their parents caused, making it vital that you become a student of your spouse so you can cooperate with God in the redemptive narrative He is writing for your spouse.

Too often, the newly wedded person expects things from their spouse without carefully discerning the damaged goods they married, with the purpose of discipling them into Christlikeness. Sometimes a spouse says, “This is not what I signed up for.” I must ask, “And you signed up for what? A perfect spouse or a work-in-progress?” Your spouse is a dirt clod. Suppose you are demanding a result without helping them achieve the goal of glorifying God. In that case, you need to rethink your motives and methods while recalibrating your perspectives to something more aligned with God’s Word.

Call to Action

It would be best never to alter the biblical change process to reach your goal. It does not work that way. Maybe you’re right about what should happen, but the process to get to that good end might not be the path you would choose. Perhaps these few helpful questions will assist in your reflections about how change works, something you can apply to anyone you’re discipling.

  1. How are you creating a context of grace in your relationship that is conducive to the sanctification and growth of the person you’re helping?
  2. What resentment, bitterness, or unforgiveness are you harboring against someone you want to see changed but they are not heeding your appeals?
  3. In what ways have you demanded changes without entering into the complicatedness of their world or discerning the Lord’s mind for this person?
  4. Are you aware that even if you are right, the result you hope for may not happen? How do you usually respond to those who are not doing what you ask them to do? Are you resting and trusting, or demanding and manipulating? Is there something you must address with God and the person you’re attempting to help? If so, what is your plan to change?

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