When I opened my door to the persistent knocking, I encountered emotional turbulence that was nearly tangible. With an impatient scowl, “Siena” (all names have been changed to protect the guilty) announced, “I don’t think this is going to work.” Then she sailed past me and flopped on the sofa. Piling pillows protectively around her, Siena issued her next proclamation: “We have WAY too much conflict.”
I studied her for a moment, then sat down and asked, “Tell me about the last one.”
Siena rolled her eyes and said, “We drove around for half an hour looking for the restaurant where we were supposed to meet a bunch of his friends from work. As usual, Jake forgot the directions. He always leaves half of his possessions and various bits of important information scattered in his wake wherever we go. It makes me absolutely crazy! So I’m trying not to mommy him, but I’m thinking, ‘Just call the restaurant already!’ But he can’t — because he doesn’t remember the name of it. He says that when he sees it, he’ll know it. So then I say, ‘Why don’t you just call one of the guys who went?’ But guess what? He doesn’t have any of their numbers in his cell phone. When we finally found the place, everyone was already eating. It was such a waste of time. And then get this — Jake tells me on the way home that he thought I over-reacted and that my anger ruined the evening! Ah-mazing!”
As I listened to Siena, I had the urge to extend an imaginary remote control and put her on pause to examine her story. Why? There are two large red flags waving here, but they aren’t about Siena’s boyfriend. They are attached to the plank emanating from Siena’s eye. Both are extremely common.
So let’s use that remote, rewind the conversation, and go to the heart of the matter.
What’s in the Sponge?
Jake thought Siena over-reacted to his forgetfulness. Siena disagreed. With only two people’s perspectives to consider, this conflict might never get resolved.
Fortunately, the Bible brings another perspective to bear that will sort this out. The solution is found in what Siena has been storing up in her heart. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus talks about this as roots and fruits:
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
In other words, our words (and thoughts and actions) are the evidence of what is stored up in our hearts, the fruit of what is rooted inside of us. The circumstances of our lives simply reveal what’s taken root in our hearts. When pressed, we either ooze the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of sin.
Author and biblical counselor Dr. David Powlison uses the sponge analogy to help us understand this passage. If you hold a wet sponge in your hand and squeeze it, water will hit the floor. Most of us would come along and look at the puddle staining the carpet and wonder why someone squeezed the sponge. But Dr. Powlison says this passage in Luke shows us the squeeze only revealed what was already in the sponge. If the sponge were dry, the squeeze would not have elicited any water. The problem wasn’t the squeeze; it was the contents of the sponge.
In the same way, when we get squeezed by the circumstances of life (an inevitability), we ooze the overflow of our hearts. We usually don’t like what we see, so we blame the squeeze. We blame the circumstances. “I wouldn’t have reacted that way if I hadn’t been tired.” Or, “I only said that because I was hot, thirsty, and uncomfortable.” That’s our default setting: blame the circumstances.
But Jesus tells us the overflow is what’s already in our hearts. Being tired, hot, thirsty, or uncomfortable are only “revealers”; they aren’t the reason we react in anger. We’re angry because anger has taken root in our hearts.
Desire and Dominance
There’s one sinful root that’s very common for women. It’s not exclusively a female problem, but it is nearly universal. It’s called sinful judgment.
Sinful judgment is where we sin against someone else by assuming we accurately know their motivations and situations, and therefore we judge them negatively. We automatically assume the worst, rather than the best, about another. Sinful judgment usually bypasses the humble inquiry and goes straight for the conviction and punishment.
And when it comes to relationships with men, we women should be savvy about how sinful judgment is an ever-present dynamic that can be traced all the way back to Eve. Because of the consequences of the Fall, we women have a desire to master or control the men around us. Genesis 3:16 records the curse that brought a distortion of the previous roles Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden:
“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
As Dr. Wayne Grudem teaches, the word translated “desire” is an unusual Hebrew word, teshuqah. It is the same word used in Genesis 4:7 when God says to Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire — teshuqah — is for you, but you must rule over it.” It means an aggressive desire, not a sexual desire. It is a desire to dominate and control.
While we’re not literally crouching at the door, waiting for men to come out so that we can pounce, this is a good picture of what sinful judgment looks like in our lives. When we can’t control the situation, we resort to the bloodless form of murder, which is sinful judgment.
Pulling the Plank
If we play back Siena’s report, we can see the overflow of sinful judgment at work. Sinful judgment is not kind toward simple human weaknesses. It’s highly unlikely that Jake decided to leave vital information behind on purpose just to provoke Siena or ruin their evening. But Siena’s own report reveals she had been storing up sinful judgment against Jake because she had been keeping a history:
“As usual, Jake forgot the directions. He always leaves half of his possessions and various bits of important information scattered in his wake wherever we go.”
When the squeeze of being late or lost tugged at Sienna’s heart, it revealed sinful judgment.
The squeeze of circumstances also revealed Siena’s self-righteousness:
“So I’m trying not to mommy him, but I’m thinking, ‘Just call the restaurant already!’ But he can’t — because he doesn’t remember the name of it. He says that when he sees it, he’ll know it. So then I say, ‘Why don’t you just call one of the guys who went?’ But guess what? He doesn’t have any of their numbers in his cell phone.”
She sees herself as the more mature, adult partner who has a much better solution for the problem at hand — a problem she would have circumvented by being organized from the start. She sees herself as unlike Jake, as opposed to the Bible’s teaching that both are sinners equally in need of a Savior. When confronted by her attitude, Siena continues to judge Jake (“ah-mazing!”), rather than humbly receive his input and repent of the diva attitude that ruined an evening out.
I’ve counseled women like Siena and I’ve been just like her myself. The planks of blame-shifting to our circumstances and sinful judgment are hard to discern without the illumination of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit.
We look at the awkwardness of a ruined evening that lies staining the floor and we think about how others “pushed our buttons.” We ooze sinful judgment and self-righteousness and think the ugliness erupted because we were lost and ill-equipped to reach our destination. Then, with this history of conflict, we progress to thinking the other person is not the right boyfriend, roommate, or co-worker. We are blind and need to be rescued from this vicious spiral.
Deposit the Good
This is the glorious promise of Calvary: Jesus offers us both the divine rescue from the one true judgment of our sin and the divine exchange to be credited with His righteousness. Because of this, we have the ability to be different and to bear good fruit as we grow in Christlikeness.
The Holy Spirit helps us to store in our hearts love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We make those deposits by focusing our thoughts the way the apostle Paul directs us in Philippians 4:8. We do this by training ourselves to think about what is:
- true (not speculation or assumption);
- honorable (assume the best first);
- just (we are objects of mercy ourselves);
- pure (untainted by gossip or slander);
- lovely (whatever reflects the glory of Christ);
- commendable (an evidence of God’s grace at work),
- excellent (find what’s right — and not just what’s wrong — in this circumstance)
- praiseworthy (there is always something for which to thank God)
Siena’s evening with Jake could have been different if she had chosen to replace her self-centered perspective and sinful judgment of Jake with what earlier Christians called “charitable” judgments. Instead of reacting with anger and impatience toward Jake’s forgetfulness, she could have exuded patience and gentleness. Such a gracious reaction is a hallmark of Christian maturity. As C.H. Spurgeon once wrote with disarming candor:
“He who grows in grace remembers that he is but dust, and he therefore does not expect his fellow Christians to be anything more. He overlooks ten thousand of their faults, because he knows his God overlooks twenty thousand in his own case. He does not expect perfection in the creature, and, therefore, he is not disappointed when he does not find it. When our virtues become more mature, we shall not be more tolerant of evil; but we shall be more tolerant of infirmity, more hopeful for the people of God, and certainly less arrogant in our criticisms.”
Copyright 2006 Carolyn McCulley. All rights reserved.