"And why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, 'Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,' when you can't see past the log in your own eye?" Matthew 7: 3 & 4
When I looked up this verse to include in today's blog, I was reminded of last year when my cottage class students were to write their own "modern day" version of this passage. They were extremely creative with it, using "normal" things like sand and boulder or grain of wheat and loaf of bread; however, one student went a little overboard with the creativity when he wrote, "Why worry about the Spam in your friend's eye when you have an entire hog in your own?" Wow, my students crack me up sometimes!
I want to share an exercise that has helped our family. Our associate pastor, Don Williams, and his wife (head of Renew Counseling Center at our church) recently spoke together on a Sunday morning about marriage. During this message, Nancy had everyone take a piece of paper and fold it in half. On the left side, you were to write a list of things that someone (i.e. your spouse, but we discussed this with our kids in terms of their relationships with each other, too) does that you do not like. Then on the right, you were to write your response to each of these acts (the way you usually respond).
Finally, you were to tear the page down the middle and throw away the half that listed your spouse’s (or sibling’s!) faults. But keep the list of your responses. That list is yours to work on.
Of course, we had a few moments of humor with this at the dinner table that day as Kara, our then-eighteen year old, announced that “it wasn’t hard for me to choose who to put on my page—or to think of the things HE does to annoy me….” with the three “he’s” sitting around wide-eyed, begging her to tell them which one of them she was referring to!
However, Nancy was exactly right. We cannot do anything about the list on the left. We cannot control that person. We cannot make that person change. We cannot “help” that person do the right thing. But we can control the list on the right. That is ours alone to conquer. That is a list of “to do” items—to change, to respond differently, to quit, to alter, to improve. That list needs to be our focus—not the other person’s list of faults that you made.
Ever since I can remember, Ray has coached the children in relationships in this way—you cannot control what the other person does, but you can control yourself. I hear him on the phone, weekly it seems, talking to one of the married kids or one of the college girls, reminding them of this truth. I listen as he tells the boys once again, that only you are responsible for your own actions—and you alone choose whether you want to invest in somebody (i.e. your sibling) or hurt that person.
Nancy’s exercise was a visible, tangible way to see this. When you rip up the other person’s faults and throw them away, you are symbolically and physically saying that you will not try to change that person. When you embrace the remaining list—the one that enumerates your faults (your negative responses), you are saying that you want to change—to do the next right thing, to work on that relationship—and your part in any negative aspects of it.
We must continually remind our children—and ourselves—to focus on our mistakes and not the mistakes of others. To be the first one to initiate reconciliation in relationships. To be the one who decides that this other person is more valuable than my being right. To be the type of person who works on the list on the right hand side of the page—and discards the list on the left.