Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

Imagine a situation like this. I am sitting in my house, quietly reading a book. I am minding my own business and not hurting anyone else. At this time my wife comes to me and tells me something that upsets me. I shout at her and then she shouts at me. I get so angry with her that I get up and give her a slap. She runs off crying into the street, and when people come to her she tells them that her husband beat her. I go out and explain that I was minding my own business when my wife said such and such a thing to me. I try to prove to them that it was her speech that made me angry and it was because she was shouting at me that I gave her a slap. I am convinced of that in my own mind, and I am trying to prove to the people that it was all my wife’s fault.

Let us look at the situation and see what different people will do to deal with the problem.

Change The Trigger
‘I’ am convinced in that situation that it was altogether my wife’s fault for coming and talking to me like that when I was minding my own business. If she had not talked like that to me, I would not have shouted at her, leave alone slap her! Many people, in similar situations, are convinced that their behaviour is entirely the result of some provocation. They fully believe that their behaviour would have been different had the other person behaved differently towards them. So, according to them, the best way to deal with it is to remove or move away from the situation or people that triggered the reaction.

It seems to be very logical to assume that if the trigger is not there, I will not behave like that. In the present example, the solution, then, is to divorce my wife and marry a better woman! Change the job if your boss is unreasonable, move to another church if you don’t like somebody there, get a transfer to another city if things have become ‘hot’ in your locality, etc.

Change Your Behaviour
My wife has said something to me and shouted at me. But was my behaviour right in shouting at her and slapping her? People will tell me that even if she behaves like this, I should not retaliate the way I did because of the Domestic Violence Act! My wife will be in a position to go to the police and get me arrested if I acted violently towards her. So I am supposed to put my hand in my pocket and avoid slapping her even if I feel like hitting her. I may succeed some of the time, but if the trigger is strong enough some other time, I may lose my control!

This is again a very common approach people take towards their problem. But we can easily see that whenever this kind of situation develops, what I really want to do is to hit out at my wife. I am also not sure if by restraining myself in this way I am only making way for my wife to harass me more! By struggling to keep our behaviour under control, the problem still upsets us, and all we are trying to do is to control our response.

Control Your Feelings
Somebody else will point out that it was because I became angry and lost control that I slapped my wife. That is true. So they say that the thing for me to do is to get more self-control and avoid losing my temper. What I need to do is to recognise my anger rising up, then take a deep breath and count to ten so that my anger can cool down and I can avoid slapping her. This can control my behaviour, but not really what I feel about the situation. What happens next time when someone upsets me? I am still the same person, and I get upset. But now the struggle is shifted to controlling my feelings, and subsequently my behaviour.

Look Deeper At The Roots
Avoiding the trigger, controlling our response behaviour and managing our negative feelings are all good things to some extent. We need to pay attention to such options too at certain times. But the fundamental problem is that we remain the same person inside, and we are only trying to manage our external responses. This is not what we Christians want to do when we think about being transformed into the image or character of Jesus. If we seek to merely imitate what Jesus did in different situations, asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” it will not lead us to become like Jesus. What we really want is to become like Jesus in our inner being and not to just imitate His actions. What we are is not all about what we say or do, but what we think inside. All the thoughts that go on inside us all the time when we are awake are what define us as God sees us.

It is the thoughts that go on inside us when a provocation takes place that make us feel a certain way, and it is those feelings that drive us towards a certain type of action. Now we can understand that merely trying to change our behaviour or feelings cannot deal with the situation at the root. But consider what can happen if we are able to change the thoughts that go on in our mind.

And it is in our thoughts that God wants us to be renewed in order to become more and more like Christ. As Paul points out, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom.12:2).

The fact is, what we think—about the people and the situations that we are dealing with—is what generates our feelings, and our behaviour follows those feelings. To elaborate, our beliefs, perceptions and assumptions concerning any situation or person, are what stimulates our feelings and subsequent action. A secular psychologist named Albert Ellis discovered this principle through observing people’s behaviour, and proposed his Rational Emotive Therapy in which he identifies the wrong thoughts that are behind the wrong feelings and the wrong behaviour, and replaces them with right thinking. When a man thinks right, his feelings and behaviour will follow from there.

How To Change Our Thoughts
In a practical sense, we can easily see that when a provocation suddenly hits us, most of the time we do not have enough time to choose the right thoughts and then act accordingly. Our feelings get instantly aroused according to the perception or assumption our mind already has about the situation, and we are tempted to act based on such inputs. In such situations, putting our hand in our pocket or taking a deep breath can help temporarily! But what we can do is to transform our thoughts post facto when we sit before God and examine ourselves to understand why we behaved badly in that situation. God can instruct us from His word how we ought to think and behave, and when we accept that into our heart we get prepared for the next similar incident that comes up. When we get into the habit of reading God’s word regularly, meditating upon it and seeking to apply the truths which we have learned to our practical life, we can also become prepared ahead of time to face situations that might come up in the future. Isn’t this the right way to deal with the problems of life?

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word” (Psa.119:9). “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (v.11). “Like new-born babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1Pet.2:1). These are just a few verses to show what God has given us in order to transform our lives. It is the word of God that the Holy Spirit uses to teach us His ways and to transform us into the nature of Christ. The more we learn from it, the more our thoughts will be transformed to become like those of God. Then, when we suddenly face a challenging situation, we are already equipped to act in a godly manner.

Experience The Change
Look at my thoughts when my wife came and provoked me. “Look at her coming and disturbing me without any thought about my comforts! How dare she talk to me like that? She has no respect! I can’t allow her to get away with this. Otherwise, next time she is going to ‘sit on my head’!” But now imagine I am reading the Bible and getting ideas about my relationship with my wife. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal.3:28). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph.5:25). “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself” (v.28). “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honour as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” (1Pet.3:7).

If I allow these words to transform my thinking, how will I think when my wife comes and says something rude to me? “She seems to be upset about something. How can I help her? Perhaps I should listen to her and try to understand what is bothering her.” This is certainly a more godly way of behaviour compared to what I was doing earlier!

Simple truths can transform our whole life, if only we are looking for them and wanting to really be changed in our own lives to become like Jesus, instead of wanting to change the rest of the world.

-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, April 2014

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