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One of the most challenging but informative questions you could ever ask your family members is how they experience you. For example, are your family members more aware of your corrections and displeasure with them or your gratitude for them? I’m not thinking about your most recent encouragement or correction but your general way of communicating with them.
There are differences between episodes and patterns. An incident is like looking through a microscope. There is a time to make the moment of a person’s problem your focus, but you don’t want to live there. As you assess your communication style, I’m asking about your usual way of talking to your family members.
Do words of encouragement and gratitude come out of your mouth more or words that discourage? Paul talked about it like a person who builds up another in Ephesians 4:29. The old term is to edify, which is like building something from the ground level. Our words either build up or tear down.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Besides the fact that encouragement is life-giving, there are times when you do have to correct someone in your home. These sad times should motivate you to “put money in the bank.” Of course, this truth is not your primary motivation for building up another person. But if you don’t know how exasperation works in the heart of someone, you will deplete them if you have not been an encourager.
All discipline and corrective action must happen in a “context of grace.” You spend your days looking for those moments to identify and isolate where a family member did something well. You let them know about it. Why? Because you are grateful for what they did, and you want them to know about it. Your gratitude for them is not merely for what they did. There are times when you tell them how much you love them just because, which you don’t attach to something they did.
You don’t always want to connect your love to actions. You love your family just because of who they are. God loves you every moment of your life, whether you’re being active or inactive for Him. It’s not always about doing stuff. The Lord lavishes His kindness on you because you are His child, which has a transforming effect in your soul. The big question here is if you’re imitating the Lord by being a lavish lover of your family members.
This kind of active gratitude for your family members is not a strategy that is engineering a particular result. Though being kind and appreciative can bring a harvest of excellent fruit, your primary motivation for being this way has a God-centered orientation. The number one reason you want to encourage others is because of the Lord’s good work in your life.
The individual who understands the Lord’s forgiveness the most will be the most grateful toward others. It’s like an equation: much mercy translates to much gratitude. Imagine the prisoner who had a life sentence, and then the judge inexplicably pardoned the criminal. The freely-pardoned man will view and respond to life differently than someone who has never experienced such a dramatic life change.
The grumbling, critical spirit is the person who does not practically understand the Lord’s forgiveness. I’m not suggesting that He has not granted it to them, but from a functional perspective, they have not “worked out their salvation” enough to where what God has given to them is redemptively affecting those around them.
God loves those whom He disciplines, and this is the kind of person who you want to bring corrective care to you. Imagine someone correcting you who did not have affection for you. How awful would that be? You can sense the differences in the discipline between the person who loves you and the one who doesn’t.
The most effective way to distinguish yourself between these two types of people is to create a proven track record of affection for your family members. You practice showing love and gratitude for them. This idea gets back to the “putting money in the bank” concept. Because of the extravagant love the Lord gives to you, there is a desire to spread that kind of love to others.
Then there will be days when you will have to correct a family member. If you have been regularly doing for them what the Lord always does for you, the corrective care you provide will feel like care rather than getting something off your chest. Too often, our warnings have a punitive feel to them rather than a redemptive one.
There are two primary areas where you want to examine yourself. The first is your relationship with the Lord, and the second is how you relate to your family members. You want to assess these two areas in the order given, which follows the two great commandments: love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-40).
Too many people attempt to address their family problems before they tackle the most significant relationship in their lives, which is with their Creator. It does not matter if you’re a believer or not; if you don’t speak to how you think about and react to the Lord, it will be hard to live well with others.
The best answer is for believers to have a practical understanding of forgiveness and find much energy, passion, and gratitude for the gift of salvation. These people will be like the Psalmist with an overflowing cup (Psalm 23:5). No matter where they go, they will impact those around them with an appreciation for the Lord’s mercy. I’m not saying they will be a talking head or people who have “annoying cups full of joy.” But they will be stable, confident, and secure in their relationships with the Lord. This type of believer is less reactive.
There are other Christians who have a harder time for all sorts of reasons. They are more reactive emotionally. When their days are going well, you can be the recipient of their genuine passion. Alternatively, when things are not meeting their expectations, you start lifting the drawbridge on your heart because something is coming, and it won’t be redemptive.
The question for you and me is, where do we land with our relationship with the Lord? Are we growing in God-centered stability because of the confidence (faith) we have in His work in us? Or are there too many adverse fallen strains from our past that impacts how we relate to those around us, especially when they disappoint us? Don’t put too much pressure your yourself, but be honest. We’re all a work in progress.
As you are addressing your relationship with God, you want to move down the “great commandments scale” and assess how you’re fairing with those within your home. Of course, these ideas apply to any person in your life, but in the context of what I’m writing here, the focus is on your home life. How do others experience your gratitude or displeasure? If these two things were 1a and 1b, which one goes where? What do your family members receive the most from you?
The ideal is for your corrective care to be like a sour drop in an ocean of love. It can be that way if your home has the aroma of joy, love, affection, laughter, and fun. Christians should be the happiest people on earth. I’m not negating those seasons of sorrow but emphasizing the other times of rejoicing. We want to be appropriate, not fake. It’s not right to inflate joy for the sake of appearance. May our joy be genuine.
If joy is not a glaring characteristic of your personality, there is something the Lord needs to change. Again, I’m not saying you should reinvent your nature to be that “over-the-top happy personality type,” but your contentment in Christ and affection for your family should be evident.
A helpful case study along these lines is how Paul responded to the Corinthians. The two Corinthian letters were corrective warnings. Paul did not hold back from bringing some of his most complex confrontations to this group of believers. He spoke straightforwardly and strongly because they needed it. The instructive thing about his corrective care is how he launched into it.
It would be helpful for you to study the first nine verses of the first letter to the Corinthians. In that section, you see, hear, and feel Paul’s heart for the people he was correcting. Any rational person would conclude that this man loved those people. You could not walk away from the first nine verses and think otherwise.
Even though his confrontations were intense, those who had ears to hear had to know that he loved them. Listen to some of the things Paul said to them. As you reflect, think about the “Corinthian” in your life and the level of affection you have for that person.
You may read all of 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. I’ve pulled out a few phrases that communicate Paul’s affection for the mean-spirited Corinthian people. I’ve added a few questions after each point so that you will have some thoughtful ways to think about how you can follow Paul as he follows Christ in this area of loving difficult people (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).