I am with people all week long who are having problems. Problems adjusting, problems functioning, problems relating with others. Problems feeling, problems parenting, and spousing (my word, it’s Thursday so cut me some slack). Often, when they first begin to share about problems, we spend a lot of time talking about all the things they don’t like about others or circumstances.
The job. The boss. The neighborhood. The past. The husband/wife. The children. The parents. The soccer moms. The babysitter. The teacher. The church.
It’s a bit overwhelming to them as they unload the pain and the hurts, the offenses, and the complaints. I often see some very valid perspective on their part- people can be very hurtful. Life is full of scary and confusing things. There is a lot wrong out there.
But can I take a minute to tell you what I eventually tell them-
Do you know what your biggest problem is? Sure all those things may be legitimately bad, but do you know what the biggest problem is?
For real. You will always be your biggest problem. Not them. And this is really, really great news. Tell me one single time you ever had an ounce of control over them? Believe me, as a recovering codependent, I have tried to find control over others, but it’s an illusion at best. The only thing you have any control over is the one thing you need to control.
Do you know what you get to do if you start believing you are the biggest problem you deal with?
You get to look at your beliefs. Are they based on truth or a lie?
You get to think about your expectations. Are they realistic or setting you up for chronic disappointment?
You can begin to look at the way you respond to difficult people or painful moments. Do your responses make things better or worse? Are they helping the relationship or damaging it?
You can start looking at your feelings. Are they consistently unpleasant or painful? Are you avoiding dealing with them by medicating through alcohol, social media, shopping, gossip, food, and/or busyness?
What about your time? What about your boundaries? What about sin in your life? What about grace and forgiveness? All these real, meaningful, important questions can be cleverly avoiding by believing the biggest problems are outside of you. All the answers to these questions come from you, and only you can do anything about these necessary changes.
The more I work with struggling women, the more I see the command “Get the plank out of your own eye before removing the speck from your brother’s eye” as an incredibly loving and empowering mandate from Jesus. Hey, sister, you can’t make them do what you want them to, but you are in control of your choices. Bad things, unfair circumstances, tragic events- they occur for all of us. But we are still given the power to choose how we respond to them.
A wonderful counselor I know says it this way- My response is always my responsibility.
Any other view makes us chronic victims- trapped, stuck and forced to deal with everyone else’s choices. But Jesus did not come to leave you enslaved to anything. Not your past. Not your family. Not your sin. Not your hurt. He came to free us by giving us the gift we had no control over- grace. Then he allows us to choose how we respond to it.
It’s the most important step in choosing, by the way. Deciding what you will do with His grace. After that, it’s not so overwhelming to start working on the plank.