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photo:Image: Simon Howden /

When I was a young adult, I loved change…as long as our young family was together.  I easily noticed how many things around me needed to change!

“Why won’t they change?”  “If they would stop/start ____, then everything would be fine!”

Then I learned something that profoundly affected me and my relationships with people.  It was this: You can’t change other people.  You can only change yourself!  To say that I was resistant to that concept is an understatement.


Although I wasn’t the smoothest manipulator I know, I wasn’t bad at it.  That was all I had ever known.  When I knew something needed to be done, that was the most common way I used to get it done.  It was exhausting and stressful!

Learning to be direct with people, to ask for what I actually wanted?  That took a long time to learn!


Have you ever noticed that once you change the way you respond in certain relationships, the relationship takes a new turn?  The other person didn’t change at all, you did.  I especially remember this in relation to some issues with my mother.

As a young adult, I felt there were times when she didn’t treat me like I was an adult…or at least a competent one!  When I applied this concept to our relationship (with some help from my husband) I realized that I often responded to some of the things she said or did, as I did when I was a child.


Reacting to what she said or did instead of stopping to think about what she actually said often resulted in overreactions to simple comments.  Listening to her and responding to what she said in the present, through the eyes of my present life as an adult, not through the eyes of my childhood with the perspective and baggage of that stage of my life, helped improve our relationship.  It was surprising!


Often, it looked like my asking her questions about what she had said, not to attack, but to clarify…

  • Are you saying “______”? (rephrase the statement in the way you understood it)?  
  • What do you mean by “____”?  
  • Can you give me a specific example of what you are talking about?  (My own children use this on me a lot!)

These are just a few of the types of questions to ask for clarification in those relationships that can be difficult.  Learning to step back, delay your reaction, clarify your understanding of their comment or action, can take time and practice.

How many times do we react to a person’s comment or action because we assume a certain motive on their part?  Clarification may clear that up.  And it gives us a clearer idea of what we are dealing with.


Our resentment can build invisible walls that make the building of an improved relationship nearly impossible.  Clarifying what the person meant can help.  We need to give the person grace enough to answer those questions…or ask them!

If we learn that their motives were not the evil ones we thought, we need to seek forgiveness from God for the resentment we held toward them…and change!  We need to change the way we think about them, the way we relate to them, the way we talk about them.

I’m spelling this out, not because I don’t think you can figure it out.  I’m saying it because I want us to see that “holding a grudge” is not a simple “little” sin.  It is complex.  Its fingers reach into all areas of life.  As we “put off” this sin in each relationship, it involves the “putting on” of new thought, speaking and action patterns.

Sometimes, our worst fears turn out to be true!  The person’s motives are as bad, or worse, than we thought!  Even then, we know what we are dealing with.  We have to learn to forgive at a level we never dreamed!  It is difficult, but God can help us.


Our ability to forgive is in direct proportion to how much we realize we have been forgiven.  I think that is why Jesus had so many words of condemnation for the Pharisees who were so self-righteous!  We often think of our own sins as small and the sins of others toward us as huge.

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?…You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you  will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:3-5)

What logs are blocking your vision?  It might surprise you to see how much your own change affects your relationships with others!  How has God helped you change?

(First published on September 29, 2011.)