“Bless them. Change me.” I came across this phrase a couple years ago and try to repeat it to myself whenever someone annoys me, whether it’s another driver on the road, one of my little ones or even my husband (who is — since he’s reading this — normally flawless). I don’t always mean it wholeheartedly, but simply saying the words reminds me of a powerful reality: I can’t change anyone but myself and even praying for others to change while thinking of myself as needing no reformation is a form of pride.
When marriages struggle, each spouse points to the other’s flaws. When our kids misbehave, our inclination is to lecture them for their failures. When our church fails to provide enough fellowship opportunities, we complain about it. We think that if only someone or something outside of us would change, things would be better. It’s unfortunate, and yet I make this mistake frequently in my marriage.
See, when it comes to the spectrum of cleanliness, my husband and I probably fall where most couples fall: he’s a slob and I worship Marie Kondo. Totally kidding.
Truthfully, he appreciates order but also doesn’t mind messes as much as I do. And then there’s me, who could probably be institutionalized for anti-clutter OCD. If you sat me at a messy desk and offered me $1,000 to crank out an article in 20 minutes, I’d probably spend the first 18 of them cleaning.
So naturally, my gears tend to grind when I encounter my husband’s disorder. In the early phases of marriage, my instinct was to criticize him and insist that if only he could be tidier, I would be more emotionally at peace. Then I learned that prayer, “Bless him. Change me” and tried to repeat it every time my blood started boiling because of his messes. And you know what? The most interesting changes took place.
First, my husband’s cleanliness actually did improve. He’s an ally in our household’s management of messes. But even more interesting is how much my eyes have been opened to how hypocritical I’ve been in focusing exclusively on his messes, ignoring my own.
Furthermore, I’ve woken up to how much time and energy I squander through unnecessary cleaning when there are far higher callings for me than an impossibly immaculate home. I was so sure it was my husband who needed to shape up but in truth, I stood to learn more from the predicament than he did.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey recounts a situation in which he and his wife were struggling with their son. Their attempts to prod and motivate him toward success were failing so they finally reevaluated their approach. “We began to realize that if we wanted to change the situation, we first had to change ourselves,” Covey writes.
Confessing the faults of others is rarely fruitful. Certainly, there are times when we can perceive where other people have room for improvement and of course I should (kindly) inform my husband that I’d appreciate more cleanliness on his part. But to diagnose another person’s shortcomings — whether it’s messiness, unkindness, ignorance, or whatever — is not something we’re called to do.
In Matthew 7:3, which contains one of Jesus’ most sobering teachings, he asks a crowd of people why someone can so easily notice the speck in their brother’s eye, yet fail to see the beam in their own eye. First, he says, a person needs to remove the beam from their eye so that they will see clearly enough to remove the speck from their brother’s. This teaching is at the heart of “Bless them. Change me.”
It’s not necessarily easy to remember this prayer in the midst of our annoyance with someone, but perhaps that trigger feeling we feel — that “if only they could shape up” opinion we form within ourselves — when someone upsets us can prompt us to remember that it’s me the Lord is seeking to form, it is me who needs to change. As Sonja Corbitt wrote in Unleashed, when God speaks to us, he is speaking about us, not about the faults of everyone else.
Copyright 2019 Elizabeth Pardi