“I’m sorry,” sort of
By Janel Breitenstein
If you have kids, you’ve likely had those moments where an apology from them is highly in order.
Say, for that Nike chucked at an unsuspecting sibling’s ear. Or when your child freaked out the UPS guy by catapulting from behind a bush. Or slipped out a word more appropriate for late-night cable.
In those instances, “sorry” might be uttered with all the enthusiasm of, say, doing homework. And that probably means your child is sitting down on the outside, but standing up on the inside.
It was an “aha” moment for my parenting when I read Tedd Tripp’s observation from Shepherding a Child’s Heart: “A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable. Is it not the hypocrisy that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees?”
But, Tripp observes, that’s exactly what we do with kids. We correct their behavior—the symptom—without addressing the heart beneath it.
It’s just as tempting to try behavior-management with my spouse. Can you just do the right thing? Or at least the thing I want you to do, doggone it?
But both marriage and parenthood are about more than me getting what I want.
Loving my husband involves intricate concern for his heart and love for God rather than just slapping on a little well-behaved whitewash.
Your wife might be great at all the wife things—but struggle with being a martyr, failing to acknowledge her dependence on others, or resting from her work and achievement.
Your husband might treat all the neighbors and church folk like they’re his mother—but hide resentment, superiority, a hunger for approval.
As spouses, we see (and indirectly steward) our spouse’s heart issues. We could behavior-manage to ease the craziness, treating just the symptom. Or we could look deeper, asking questions to explore and expose what lies beneath.
Will my ultimate message to my spouse be “try harder”?
Or “we both need Jesus”?
The good stuff: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
Action points: Push back a bit when you see your spouse leaning to goodness for the sake of appearance. Without assuming motive, ask heart-probing questions empowering him or her toward personal conclusions about the “why’s” in his or her heart:
- Why do you feel motivated to do that?
- On the surface, this looks like a good thing. But can I ask you something, without assuming? Is there a chance you’ve got some [insert sin pattern] going on there?
- I appreciate your willingness to please me. But I think underneath your action, what I would desire is for you to feel __. I know I can’t force or manufacture your emotion, but I would like your actions to be from the heart: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9).
Pray not just for your spouse’s behavior, but his or her heart attitudes. Ask God to exchange the “stone” parts of our heart for flesh (Ezekiel 11:19).
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