“He just drives me crazy! When is he going to wake up to himself?!”
Unfortunately, priests hear words like these on an all too regular basis. There is a lovely little story His Holiness Pope Shenouda tells of a man who came to him to confess (before he was Pope). The man launches in to a lecture about So-and-so and all the horrible things he has done, how he is a very bad person, and how frustrated and angry he has made him. HH listens patiently, and at the end, the confessor asks HH to pray the absolution for him. “Sorry,” HH replies, “I can’t do that. You haven’t confessed any of your sins for me to absolve. But if you would like to bring So-and-so, I will happily pray the absolution for him, since you have confessed all his sins for him!”
I always wonder how it is that people maintain such an optimistic hope that they will be able to change other people. Why else would you waste your time or your breath complaining? Wives believe, day after day, that if only they continue to complain about the messy sink, one day, their husbands will suddenly stop in their tracks and say, “Gosh, you’re right! How thoughtless of me! I’ll just turn this dial here in my side to the NEAT setting, and from now on I will always immediately wash up after myself.” And the wife will reply, “Thank you dear. I knew that nagging for thirty-five years would do the job.”
It just doesn’t work that way.
Here’s the deal: there is only one person that can change an annoying, frustrating, difficult person for the better: Himself or herself.
I can’t say it with 100% certainty, but I am pretty sure on this point. I have seen hundreds of people try to change their loved ones, with a pretty solid failure rate. Just think about it from the other side of the equation – has anyone managed to change you simply by complaining about you? What’s your first reaction when someone points out your failings? Is it “Oh gee, I am so glad you pointed that out to me! What a silly duffer I’ve been.”? Or is it more like, “Oh yeah, well what about you, hey? You do this that and the other. How dare you criticise me?!”
No, for most of the human race, we do not react well to criticism. What is needed is insight, liberally sprinkled with good old fashioned humilityand topped with a hearty dose of grace.
The insight is the ability to honestly recognise when we have been a pain to others. Some people are over sensitive in this area. They will read even the slightest little facial expression as implying displeasure and respond with copious apologies and offers to make it up again. But then there are others who have hides like a rhinocerus – they don’t get it even if you shout it in their faces.
Having recognised and understood the problem, one finds it extremely difficult to actually do something about it. We behave the way we do often because that is how we are comfortable. To change one’s behaviour, to alter a habit, is no easy task. It requires oodles of humility just to admit that change is needed, and to put the needs of others before one’s own needs. Yes, my family’s need to live in their own home without wearing gas masks should come before my own need not to walk three meters to the washing basket to dispose of my smelly socks. It takes humility to think that way.
And having decided to make the change, one sometimes meets with an impenetrable barrier of inertia. It is so hard to change!
I feel like giving up.
I’ve tried everything without success.
His standards are just too high.
Why can’t she accept me the way I am?
I feel there is no hope.
I am getting so tired of this.
Sound familiar? These are the words of one who tries to change all on their own. It usually fails. This is where the grace of God comes in. He is able to do that which we cannot…
“My grace is sufficient for you,
For My strength is made perfect in weakness” – 2Corinthians 12:9
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” – Phillipians 4:13
“Do not rejoice over me, my enemy,
For when I fall, I shall surely rise,
When I sit in darkness,
The Lord shall be a light to me.” Micah 7:8
Change is never easy. In CS Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he has the detestable Edmund transform into a dragon because of his selfishness and greed. Eventually, the Christ figure, Aslan the Lion, meets him by a pool and asks him if he would like to be a human again. Of course, by this stage, Edmund is so lonely and miserable that he has finally understood what a monster he’d been to his friends, so he agrees. All he has to do, he is told, is to take off his dragon skin. Happily, he peels it off, much like a snake shedding an old skin, only to find another dragon skin underneath. This too he sheds, and another, and another of the seemingly endless layers of dragon that enfold him. Finally, Aslan asks if he would like some help, which he accepts. But much to his consternation, the Lion digs His claws deep, deep into Edmund’s flesh and rips… In agony, Edmund cries out, but it is soon over, and he looks down upon himself to find himself wonderfully human once more.
God is more than willing to help me with the difficult changes in myself that I need to carry out. But first, I have to recognise and humbly acknowledge the trouble I cause to others. It is only then, when I come before Him in genuine humility, seeking His grace, and willing to accept the consequences, that I can truly change.
The choice is mine … no one else’s.