Last night I came home from work (my day job, not counseling) in a pretty good mood. I went about doing several little things I wanted to do, including warming up some delicious supper that my wife had made on Sunday and turning on some TV to watch (by the way, Wu-Tang: An American Saga is pretty cool for those like me who enjoyed Wu-Tang’s music back in the day).
Then it happened. My good mood was flipped upside down when my wife came home in a not-so-good mood. At first, I tried to ignore it and hold onto my perspective. However, a few sharp comments later and I was down in the dumps with her. Then…I got angry.
My internal dialogue included statements such as “Why did she have to come home with an attitude and ruin my day?”, “This is just great, all I wanted to do was sit back and enjoy some pork tenderloin and Wu-tang!”, and then of course “I never can do enough to make her happy!” That last one deserves some explanation. There were definite points of criticism in some of her remarks. At times, I struggle with feeling like I’m just not good enough, so even the slightest hint of criticism can inflame my shame and cause me to take a nose dive emotionally.
The first response was to lash out in some sarcasm and express my frustration. This is where relational conflict, in general, can get very ugly very quickly. The blame game and button-pushing can get out of hand before we know it. Thankfully, the night did not end with that being the overall theme.
Letting down our guard can change everything.
Although it is one of the hardest things to do, if we can muster up enough courage to let our guard down, something ugly and hurtful can turn into something beautiful and healing. That is what happened to us last night.
At one point, Melissa made the hard choice to lay down whatever she had brought home with her emotionally and apologized for taking it out on me. Unbeknownst to me, she had had a very bad day at work. It had challenged her on a deep level, and she was feeling down on herself. With all the self-criticism going on inside her head, it overflowed into criticism of everything around her. That happened to include me and whatever she saw me doing or not doing when she walked through the door. Instead of defiantly staying in that funk, Melissa chose to be a hero last night. Nothing short of it.
One act of heroics can spawn another.
After this courageous, loving, and humble move on her part, I was then faced with what I would choose to do. In these cases, it is difficult to trust the person after such an exchange of criticism and harsh communication. It is easy to keep the defenses up and shut down. At first, that is what I did. I could feel myself physically pulling away. But then, I chose to receive what she was saying, discontinue taking her actions towards me personally, and invite her to share what had happened to her during the day. Easier said than done, but this time that is what happened!
Our ensuing conversation was one of sharing and drawing closer together. Instead of spending the rest of the night fuming, we experienced relational intimacy in conversation about real stuff that was happening inside of us. She received what she needed, and so did I. Why? Because we let down our defenses. If either of us had held firm to our walls, we would have missed a great night with each other.
Self-defense serves to keep us from giving and receiving love.
Only through humility can we tear down our defenses and that is a hard thing to do. We must be convinced of its potent power to produce more of what we truly need and less of what hurts us. Humility extinguishes dark spots in our lives and relationships with a very bright, healing light. Yeah, it can sting quite a bit, but it is worth it.
I’m not sharing this story because I’ve “got it all figured out”. Melissa and I struggle just like anyone else. The reason I’m sharing this is to share a message of hope and truth. I’m sharing my experience because I believe in what I saw happening and what I’ve seen in other similar moments of my life.
God desires for us to lay down our defenses and experience love and grace through humility.
God is at work in us and through us. He loves us and wants us to enjoy Him and each other. Humility is a key component in engaging this grace-life that he offers (“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” James 4:6). Humility is essential to us having healthy, fruitful, and amazing lives with each other. Without it, we are left to fend for ourselves, making self-protection our first priority. Lack of humility leaves us with unmet needs and bleeding wounds. In the absence of humility, fear and shame causes hurt people to hurt people.
So, while I am not preaching an easy answer to difficult life situations here, I AM hoping and praying we can take this crucial truth and hold onto it dearly as we engage challenging relational exchanges with each other. Self-awareness is a wonderful way to trust God and allow Him to do his work in us. The grace Melissa and I offered each other last night did not come from us. It came from Him.