The man on the phone was enraged. He spewed venom as he described a fight he had had with his wife the evening before.
“She was shouting obscenities at me,” he said loudly. “She attacks me emotionally and sometimes won’t let me get a word in edgewise.”
He continued citing all the things she had done to upset him.
I listened carefully, noting that not once did he indicate what he had done to upset her. Focusing on her actions, his attitude became even more “Courtroom-like,” being accusatory, case-building and hostile.
After a few minutes I stopped him.
“Jerry,” I said. “I’ve listened carefully to you and I hear you telling me all the things your wife does that hurts you, but I don’t hear you talk about your part in the problems.”
“I’m not sure I have any,” he said. He paused for a moment before continuing. “I probably did some things to aggravate her.”
“Yes, I suspect you did. People don’t get that angry in a vacuum.”
“But, she was really out of control. I reacted to her anger,” he said. “I wasn’t going to just sit there.”
“I can imagine it being very uncomfortable,” I said. “No one wants to be yelled at. Still,” I continued, “it is important that we look closely at your part in the dance. That doesn’t mean you take responsibility for everything—just your part in the destructive dance.”
As we explored their relationship, and pattern of fighting, it became more evident that Jerry really did play a role in their arguing. He reacted angrily to her anger, becoming defensive and even hostile in his responses to her. He was provocative and sarcastic. Clearly, he was not innocent in their fighting.
Jerry and I continued our discussion, exploring in depth what the Apostle Paul says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). This is a strong statement. Let’s explore it in more depth.
First, we must explore our part in any disagreement. While it is tempting to focus on the wrongs of the other, and often brings a sense a arrogance and entitlement, our task is to place primary emphasis on our side of the street. Studies show that we tend to judge other’s actions harshly, while giving ourselves a more grace. Scripture clearly says that, as much as it pertains to us, we are to live in peace with others.
Second, we can only change ourselves. We cannot really change others. We cannot force them to act the way we want, as tempting as it is to try. Coercion, manipulation and passive-aggressive actions only leads to greater conflict. Mirror positive interaction.
Third, changing ourselves often changes others. There is power in changing ourselves. Focusing on our part in the destructive dance changes the dance. As we look in the mirror, we see things we do that aggravate a situation. Ending our aggravating behavior has a powerful impact on others. This is something we can do to have peaceful relationships.
Fourth, living with integrity brings a level of peace, regardless of external circumstances. When we live according to Biblical standards, positive things are likely to occur. Even if others don’t change, we can have a measure of peace by living according to our principles.
Finally, living peacefully in one area of our life leads to other positive changes. We cannot make these changes under our own strength. Allowing the Holy Spirit to breathe life into us empowers us to be peacemakers. We live out the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)—and this leads to even greater positive change.
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Publication date: August 21, 2012