Radical Assertiveness

Praying_woman“Please don’t write another superficial, feel-good, ‘boy-meets-girl’ story. Women need to know how to really love their men.”

The speaker was reacting to my statement that I planned to write a romance novel. She went on to explain her point of view. “I married ‘Mr. Right,’” she said. “He seemed to be everything I was looking for. But after a while, he started criticizing me. The more I defended myself, the more he nit-picked. He blamed me for things that weren’t my fault. I retaliated with snide comments. Things went from bad to worse until we were barely speaking. I thought about divorce, but knew that couldn’t be God’s will for us. I prayed about it and decided I should try to love and honor my husband as if he were Jesus. At first it was hard. My husband rejected my attempts to be friendly. When I felt like crying, I would lock myself in the bathroom, read my Bible and pray; then I’d come out and try again. Sometimes God would show me where I needed an attitude adjustment. I focused on changing myself and left the rest up to God. After a long time, my husband began to realize I was for real. Little by little he opened up and we started talking things over. The more I listened to him, the better he listened to me. We both found areas where we needed to change. We have a completely different marriage now. My husband is my best friend.”

Some might say this woman’s approach was the opposite of assertiveness. She honored and loved a man who treated her badly. What a doormat! Where was her self respect?

We Christians, however, are supposed to “put on the mind of Christ.” Viewed through the lens of the One who died for us “while we were yet sinners,” this lady’s behavior takes on a different cast. Her determination to break the cycle of resentment is the essence of assertiveness. She chose to set a positive tone. She stopped thinking like a victim, and became a leader by humble example.

I want to caution against trying this approach without being rooted in Jesus. Loving someone who doesn’t love you back is exhausting. Without a source of strength beyond yourself, you’ll soon have nothing left to give. Jesus, being both human and divine, understands the pain while having infinite resources to meet the needs.

The woman in this story was never alone, never lacking support or encouragement. She turned to Jesus and poured out her anger and grief. She received guidance from reading the scriptures and she received transformative power through prayer.

“Transformative power” is not an empty cliche. The request, “Please help me change my bad attitude,” has got to be near the top of the charts for prayers answered with a resounding “Yes!”

Jesus told us to face our own flaws before trying to fix anyone else’s. He will gladly help us transform our hostility and resentment into love and generosity. The struggle will continue for a lifetime, but God will supply our needs moment by moment as we repeatedly turn to him for help. Clarity, calmness, insight and inspiration will be given as often as we open ourselves to receive them.

Photo attribution: Wikimedia Commons,  “Lecartia Praying”, by Maria Kruger