Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hope for the Critical Heart

{Ravaged by} Great Expectations: Part 2

(Don't miss Part 1, How to Strangle a Great Marriage.)

" . . . we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything."
(1 John 3:20)

Remember my recent post on How to Strangle a Great Marriage? You know, the one where I share that one simple step called criticism unhealthy expectations? (Your comments and insights were so powerful, by the way!) Well, there’s unfortunately more to that ugly mess, friends. And it doesn’t just apply to marriage.

When it comes to our expectations, we have a choice as to what we do with them. Just like anything else in life, we can pretty much either attempt to manage them ourselves, or entrust them to the Lord’s loving care. And sadly, I am living proof of what can happen in the heart and mind when we don’t surrender our expectations fully to the Lord.

When I don’t de-throne my expectations, it hinders me from being able to process disappointment from unmet expectations biblically. And as a result, that poorly-processed disappointment quickly and easily leads to critical thoughts instead of forgiveness. Oppressive attacks of entitlement-based thinking, instead of streams of living grace.

One evening a few weeks ago, my husband was managing several time-sensitive business transactions. {He’s a local Real Estate expert, so we’re talkin’ critical stuff like negotiating on behalf of clients making some of the biggest decisions of their lives. But the man thrives with a good challenge. Wish I could say the same!}

Anyway . . . he had these critical transactions on his plate, yet was also graciously making himself available to me on the home front in the in between moments. Amidst his incredibly-full plate, he said some things that were clearly born out of a pressured context, but hurt, nonetheless. And in the middle of that conflict, our son accidentally dropped his drink on the floor, and his glass shattered into a wet mess.

If it had just been the glass that shattered, I would have swept it up. If it had just been liquid that spilled, I would have mopped it up. But this was a mess of both liquid and glass, and I didn’t know how to tackle it.
And that’s exactly how I felt about the ache in my heart at that moment.

I didn't know how to tackle my hurt. I didn't even know where to begin to process it biblically. I tried to remember the 10 principles that I recently shared in my Salve of Truth for the Wounded Soul post. But honestly, I couldn’t remember a single one.
I was drowning in my hurt.

Sadly, this is oftentimes the moment in marital conflict where my critical voice takes over. (For 15 years and counting . . . Sigh.) A speck of hurt can begin to look so large to me that I stare at it. From every angle. I begin to build an argument for why that speck is so terrible. In fact, I tell myself that I can’t even imagine allowing that speck into my own eye . . .
And in doing so, the pride-drenched critical log in my eye gets bigger.
And bigger.
And bigger.

In our conflict that night, my husband, my closest friend, was needing my understanding. But my self-focused flesh shut it down {along with appreciation}, and replaced it with looks of horror.
Over a speck . . .

But let me tell ya, friend – it didn't feel like a speck. It usually doesn't. Because my pride inconspicuously catches a ride with my feelings and sadly convinces my mind's eyes to see every speck magnified as beam-sized crushing blows. But then, something wonderful happened. God spoke to me – even though I was consumed with my hurt, not with Him!
He spoke to me despite me! Because He is greater than our feeble hearts, my friend!!

He said:
Don't make him feel like he's just done the worst thing in the world.
Because He hasn't.

And I thought:
Okay, Lord. Truth for sure . . . in fact, one that has come from my husband’s own lips in the past. Okay . . . don't make him feel like he's done the worst thing in the world . . .

My husband had stepped out of the kitchen for a bit to take care of something, and when he returned, I could tell that he was still bearing a lot of tension, so we delicately danced our way through some dialogue. And we probably exchanged no more than two or three minutes of conversation before the thought rose sharply to my mind:
He hasn't even apologized! . . .
I can't believe he can talk to me without even apologizing!

And in His mercy, God spoke to my wayward heart once again:
Don't look to get.
Look to give.

That evening, I was reminded that despite the battles that fiercely rage within my self-centered nature, God remains on His throne. Despite my tendency to attempt to find in my husband what only God can give, God continues to draw me to Himself. Despite the depravaty of my sin nature, I am hidden with Christ in all His holiness.

Whether you can be the voice of criticism, at times, or the recipient of it, I know the lies of life can become so loud and amplified.
They scream at you and tell you that you're not good enough, or not doing enough. They try to convince you that what he did is unforgivable, or unredeemable. Lies lure us to place our value, or others', in how well we live life, rather than in the sufficiency of Christ.
But I’m here to remind you that the Lord’s voice is LOUDER.
Because regardless of the state of your heart or mind, He is able to speak over the loudest noise in your soul. Whether the screams of hurt, the pain of criticism received, the bondage of expectations and criticism, the clutter of misplaced hope . . .

He is mighty to save us from ourselves, and He can make His voice be heard OVER all our pain, and all our junk.

So maybe you have times when you struggle with a critical spirit like I do. Or maybe you bear the tender bruises from critical words received. This fight for grace is a bloody battle, friends. But it's covered by the blood of Christ. So wherever you find yourself in that painful dynamic, I want you to know that there’s hope for the critical heart.

(Image above courtesy of Natanis Davidsen)
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