This is a very belated post in response to a conversation among the Hob Knobbers several months ago. I was in the midst of some relational conflict over some longstanding issues, and working through the book Who’s Pushing Your Buttons? by John Townsend (of the Cloud/Townsend Boundaries books). It was a really challenging book, because it presents two Truths that are the antidote to two corresponding Lies that keep you from seeing beneficial and lasting change in relationships.
The first lie is that you can change someone else, and the second lie is that people don’t change. Like all the most effective lies, they’re not so much absolute lies as they are misdirection and half-truth.
The truth is, you can’t control someone else’s behavior. Not by yelling, not by reasoning, not by threatening, and not by whining (although almost everyone employs these and other methods in a vain attempt to get someone close to them who is driving them crazy to change).
The truth is also that while you can’t change someone else’s behavior directly, you have tremendous influence in your relationships, if you learn how to control and direct that influence. People do change. You can change, and through your change, other people you’re in relationship with can find hope, inspiration and nuts-and-bolts-details for changing their own behavior.
Is there more to it, deeper spiritual truths, and the application of the Gospel? Yupper. I’m a follower of Christ, it’s part of who I am and my worldview, and I don’t make apologies for it. My personal belief is that the transforming power of the Gospel is at the heart of real and lasting change. I know not everyone is on the same page on that, and that’s okay. I can believe that’s okay because I believe that the same One who pursued me and won me over, will pursue and win over anyone who is open-hearted and winnable. Anyway, back to our topic. The book, and what I personally discovered when I earnestly tried out Townsend’s suggestions for being an “agent of change” in a particularly trying relationship.
I am not going to attempt to condense an entire book into a blog post, but I will say that it presented an extremely do-able, clear and specific road map for changing difficult relationships. I can also say that when I followed the guidelines, change happened in a situation I had given up on. And lastly, if you get nothing else out of the book, please latch on to this one idea: “I’m for you.”
It’s a little ironic that just at the time I was being really challenged by this book, I first heard TobyMac’s song “I’m for you.” I like TobyMac, although I’m not as big a fan as Chris is. But there was a part of the book that talks about your “position” towards the other person. It’s talking about the position of your heart. If you give a person advice, and your position towards them is that they’re a screwed up mess who probably won’t listen to you, because God knows they’ve never listened in the past… you have no shot of reaching them. As much as you are able, you need to relate to that person from a position of love. I had a hard time wrapping my head around that. Did it mean that I was to be a doormat? That I was to act like their destructive and self-destructive behavior was okay? No. Because that’s not loving the person. Townsend described it as being “for” the person. The phrase “I’m for you” suddenly made it click. You have to be FOR that person, meaning you genuinely want the best FOR them. You are advocating FOR them, standing up FOR them, even against their own issues, biases, and bad habits.
“I’m for you.” means “I’m not fighting you. I’m fighting for you. Even if it means I’m sometimes fighting against stuff you want, but which isn’t good for you. Even if it means you don’t like me as much for a little while. I’m for you.”
I’m not going to lie to you. Being for someone you love is hard, hard stuff. Standing firm and working through stuff instead of continuing the pointless verbal ping-pong match of blame and defend is a major commitment of energy and faith. But it works. You have to stick with it, but it works.
Of course, what’s bringing this up is a recent realization that I need to start putting some energy into being an agent of change in a few relationships, for a few more people. When you see someone you care about beating their head against the same wall of their own bad habits, you can either wag your finger at them, or you can get in there and help. But if you elect to get in there and help, you have to actually help, not just be another source of guilt and condemnation for them. You have to be for them.
Wish me luck. 🙂