“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Galatians 5:22-23
Anyone who gets married, soon becomes very aware of his or her spouse’s problematic attitudes and behaviors — and thinks their input, directly or subtly, can fix their spouse.
Believe me, I’ve tried with all my might to let my husband, Greg, know that he should stop watching as much television, or work a little less or put his dishes in the dishwasher. I’ve often done this covertly. But when subtle input didn’t work, I would get frustrated and feel like giving up. In my heart, I knew I couldn’t change him.
I used to say things like, “I can’t change Greg. He’s going to do what he’s going to do.” But then the Lord would say ever so gently to me, “No, you can’t change him, but I can. And I can also change you.” Ouch.
Honestly, it was much easier, more fun and self-justifying to talk about what my husband was or wasn’t doing in our relationship. That definitely kept the focus off me. But ultimately it kept me from growing as a person. It kept me from having to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
Many of the things I disliked about Greg reflected things I disliked about myself. But I couldn’t see my flaws until I stopped looking at my husband and started looking at myself. Learning to focus on the ways God wants to change me has been an ongoing process.
That’s really the bottom line: A more loving relationship with our spouses (or with other family members and friends, for that matter) begins with us. It begins with the realization that we cannot change anyone — including our husbands.
Each of us can, however, take a penetrating look at ourselves and ask, “How can I become the best wife I can be? How can I approach my relationship with my husband differently? What can I do to nurture a more vibrant, loving relationship with him?”
Once we’ve embraced the truth that a more loving relationship with our spouses begins with us, we may find that our hearts aren’t all that thrilled about taking the first steps toward change.
In fact, the condition of our hearts is often the first change that needs to take place.
Change, like love, is a matter of the will. But it also involves the heart. And heart-level change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.
Disillusionment and broken dreams may have caused many of us to wrap our hearts in thick, self-protective layers of armor, closing them off from our husbands for years. Hurt and resentment may have grown deep roots. We may long for more loving relationships with our husbands, but before we can truly open our hearts again, the armor needs to be stripped away, and our stony hearts need to soften.
For many of us, letting down our guard and softening our hearts may seem impossible. Thankfully, we belong to a God who is a heart specialist. Just as He alone can change the hearts of our spouses, He alone can change our hearts.
An amazing thing happens when we allow God to change our hearts. He fills us with His unconditional love and enables us to reach out to our husbands wholeheartedly without demands or preconditions.
Romans 5:5 reminds us, “For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” As we focus on becoming more like Jesus, the fruit of His Spirit will grow in our hearts, and His love will flow through us to influence our marriages and our spouses.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Ephesians 6:7, “Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
God’s love has the power to transform even the most hopeless relationship. Do you believe that? What past hurts or experiences are keeping you from embracing that truth with confidence?
Being wholehearted means giving ourselves fully in every aspect of our relationships with our spouses. Not out of a sense of duty, but because we’re ultimately serving the Lord. If you were filled with God’s unconditional, wholehearted love, what is one way you could reach out to your spouse today without demands or preconditions?
Erin Smalley has published numerous articles for ParentLife, HomeLife, and Marriage Partnership magazines. She works alongside her husband, Greg Smalley, at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. Together the Smalleys encourage couples toward developing a deeply satisfying marriage. Erin and Greg most recently wrote Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage: 12 Secrets for a Lifelong Romance.
This article was originally published for Proverbs 31 Ministries.13