So when we left you yesterday, our heroine was perched on the edge of a supremely uncomfortable mattress sobbing and expressing her feelings in what can only be described as “a melodramatic fashion” while our groggy hero looked on in dismay. The question we posed yesterday was this: What is the right way to handle this type of situation? What is the biblical method? Is there a biblical method? And what does it look like on a practical level?
We will answer those questions from each person’s point of view, beginning with Paul.
When someone you love is stumbling through an emotional blizzard, your job is to help them find the correct path. You job isn’t to change them (you can’t anyway) or choose the path for them. There are some things you can do to remove barriers.
First, you must fight the desire to focus on your own inconvenience. Don’t make your goal merely the cessation of the storm. Instead, see the situation as a means to being like Jesus—for the both of you. A quick repentance may even be necessary before you begin to help your spouse (Matt 7:5): “Father forgive me for loving my time more than my wife, help me to know how to show your grace and kindness.”
Before jumping in with a bunch of Bible verses, take a moment to observe. Notice the broken world around them. In this case, Liz was in pain and without sleep. Next, try to understand what heart attitudes are fueling the emotional storm. Again, in this case Liz was fighting fear, worry, self-condemnation (because she helped make a bad purchase), and anger over the way her expectations had not been met. This type of understanding is developed through deliberate listening and takes patient practice. The longer we have been married, the better we understand each other and what drives us at a heart level. Do not make sweeping assumptions or judgments and do not simply try to “fix” the situation. Fixing the situation leaves out the heart issues involved. Fixing will come later if they need it. Resist the urge to fire and forget.
Now, acknowledge what you have observed. Commiserate with the brokenness of their world. The fall has been tough on all of us. Gently restate their internal motivations as you understand them. Again, don’t tell them what they feel. Ask them discerning questions in order to gain a better perspective on what is truly bothering them. Remember, BE GENUINE. They’ll spot fake concern a mile away.
Once you have gained their trust (it will take longer to do this when you first get married, but if you spend the time up front, it will be quicker later), and once they know that you are on their side and want to help, give the biblical antidote to their problems. In this case, God would give grace to deal with the pain and insomnia (2 Cor 12:9), God always provides for his children (Matt 6:32), and he always has their best in mind (Rom 8:28). State the conclusion: We’ll get through this storm. Keep this short and simple. No sermons necessary—and in most cases no quoting of verses needed (she already knows them).
As much as you would like to see immediate change, this may or may not happen. In fact, many times it won’t happen. But the Holy Spirit will always use truth to change a person’s heart. God’s truth always accomplishes his purposes (doesn’t return void—Is 55:11). Believe this by faith and move on.
If the storm persists, and you have provided truth without trying to convince them (let the Spirit do that—Jn 16:13). Simply reaffirm your love. Provide a shoulder to cry on. Be a place of security where your spouse is safe and can deal with their heart without fear of dismissivness or self-righteousness.
For the spouse who is battling their emotions, there are fewer responsibilities—which is good, all things considered. In some ways, what you need to do is a simple thing. Not easy, but it is simple. You must stop listening to yourself, and start talking to yourself. You must train yourself to hear the error that is pervading your thoughts. In an emotional moment, the thoughts that your brain screams at you are often lies about your situation and (by extension) about your God. Learn to capture those thoughts, evaluate them, and see them for what they really are. I’m often surprised at just how deceitful my heart can be (Jer. 17:9). In that emotional moment, I thought that I was totally legitimate in the despair that I felt. That the thoughts I was expressing were warranted. But as I slowed down and actually listened to what I was saying, I realized that those thoughts were really an extension of my fear, frustration, and self-condemnation. They were very persuasive, but they ignored the God who had complete control over my situation.
I realized that my thoughts were an extension of my fear, frustration, and self-condemnation. They were very persuasive, but they ignored the God who had complete control over my situation.
Once I had acknowledged the error of my thoughts, and stepped away from the brink of despair, I had to fortify my mind with truth. This is the “talking to yourself” part. But with only four hours of painful sleep to work with, the quality of my “truth statements” was severely inhibited. Thankfully, where I was insufficient to speak truth to myself God graciously provided Paul with the right words (after a few wrong ones : P ) to re-orient my thinking. I had to accept this help from my spouse. I had to be humble enough to acknowledge my own weakness and rejoice in the stability that Paul provided.
As Paul spoke truth to me, the Holy Spirit used it to calm my fears and remind me that God is always good (Rom 8:28). Always has a plan in place that is designed to make me more like Christ (Phil 1:6). And sometimes, that plan may include a very uncomfortable mattress.