“Lord, show me the sin in my life,” I prayed. Our family had gathered before bedtime to confess our sins to God and to each other. When it was my turn, I asked God to show me my sin, then waited in silence, listening for his voice.
“You’re blaming your husband,” I heard Him say.
Blaming my husband! I thought. Not again! “How?” I asked. Then God showed me. Another stress-filled day, trying to do too much. I thought my husband should help me, and I made the mistake of telling him so.
He jumped in to help, but I had carved out an agenda bigger than team of people could have managed in a day. By the end of the day I was exhausted and discouraged. I dealt with my sense of failure by blasting my husband.
My heart sank when I heard God tell me that I was blaming my husband rather than facing my tendency to push too hard, then erupt. Earlier, it seemed as if I was right. I saw my negative jabs as confrontation–not blaming. But healthy confrontation is based on reality and is spoken in love. When we confront, we want to see our loved one become all that God made them to be.
That day, I was looking for someone I could dump my guilt on. My self worth was tied to my performance. When I didn’t accomplish all I had set out to do, I felt terrible. Because I couldn’t face the shame, I shoved the blame onto my husband’s lap.
That night was only the beginning. Over the next six months the Lord convicted me each and every night of blaming my husband! If gold stars were given for blaming, I had a near perfect record.
Gradually, God showed me that I needed to give my anxieties to God instead of trying to quell them by racing to solve every problem at once. I was resisting God’s instrument of change by blaming my husband for my pain.
Like me, humans have been blaming each other since the dawn of time. In the garden of Eden, Eve blamed the snake for her transgression and Adam blamed Eve. Then Adam blamed God. He told God that it was “the woman You gave me (remember that one, Lord, YOU gave her to me) she was the one who gave me the fruit from the tree and I ate it.”
Why do we blame others? “It’s so much easier to see the faults of others,” say Robert Hemfelt, Ed.D. and Paul Warren, M.D. in their book Kids Who Carry Our Pain (Thomas Nelson). But blaming carries a price. “Blame is a hindrance to sharing. For a couple to seek healing they must suspend blame.”
Everyone is tempted to blame others at times. But perfectionist, like me, “feel a tremendous amount of shame when they are wrong,” says Carol Golz, a clinical therapist in Littleton, Colorado. “So they find someone else to blame.”
I still struggle with wanting to blame my husband at times. But I have discovered six secrets that help me avoid the pitfalls of mudslinging. Let me share them.
First, I have to face what I am doing. I have to be willing to ask God daily to show me my sin, even though I don’t want to face it. “Blaming is a coping mechanism,” says Golz. “It is not a healthy coping mechanism, but it is a coping mechanism nonetheless. We blame because we aren’t able to face what we are doing. We can’t deal with the guilt.”
I found that there is only one healthy way to deal with guilt: Get on my knees, confess it as sin–and ask God to forgive me and cleanse me. As I turned to God and gave Him my negative emotions, He gradually freed me from believing that my self-worth hinged on my performance. Admitting my guilt set me free. I began to see myself as a sinner, but instead of getting discouraged, I was encouraged as I realized that God loved me anyway. Not because of my perfect performance, but because He chose me.
Second, when I am upset or angry, I stop to ask myself, “What am I believing?” Many counselors recommend asking yourself, what am I feeling? But asking ourselves, “What am I believing?” is more helpful because “our beliefs drive our actions and our feelings,” say Alice Petersen, M.Div., Gary Sweeten, Ed.D., and Dorothy Faye Geverdt, M.Ed., in their book Rational Christian Thinking (Equipping Ministries International, Cincinnati, Ohio).
The first time a counselor encouraged me to do this I was angry at my husband, Sam for stopping at Price Club on the way home from work. I wanted to go with him, but he didn’t know that. He thought it would be better to get the shopping out of the way so we could have a quiet evening at home.
When I stopped to ask, what am I believing that made me so mad? I realized than I believed that he was trying to control our money. Even worse, I believed that all men were self-centered. Whoa, I thought, where did that come from? It was absurd! Even though today’s culture engages in gleeful man-bashing, all men are not inherently self-centered.
Other people who examine their beliefs discover that they believe they are worthless or that nothing will ever change or that no one loves them. Examining our beliefs can free us from irrational feelings. Hold your beliefs up to the litmus test of God’s Word and choose to embrace His truth instead.
Third, ask God to heal your wounds. My husband and I have prayed for hundreds of people as part of the prayer ministry team at our church. After many years of serving in this ministry, I am convinced that everyone carries wounds. Traditional counseling offers understanding and insight, but only God can heal our hearts. Ask Him to heal your wounds. Cry out with Jeremiah 17:14: “Heal me, oh Lord, and I will be healed.” Spend time with God. Search the scriptures and learn how God sees you and your problems.
Fourth, cultivate an attitude of thankfulness. Last week my husband offered to go to the grocery store. He took both of our daughters–Anna, age 14, to help him shop, and Sarah, age 5, so I could finish a writing assignment. They forgot to take the grocery list, and returned with five kinds of cookies, no bread, no butter, and no meat. I just a tad upset. Smoke was coming out of my ears. But instead of questioning his motives and greeting him with suspicion, I told myself, he went to the grocery store and took two of the three kids. I was able to finish my assignment. There was a lot to be thankful for even if the job wasn’t perfect.
Fifth, die to perfectionism. My husband and I have wildly different standards of neatness. During the early years of our marriage I made everyone adhere to my standards. Sam tried to be neater. To please me, he learned to hang up his wet towel after showering and to wash the dishes right after dinner rather than waiting until there were no clean cereal bowls. But he still doesn’t close cupboard doors or wipe up the coffee he spills on the counter each morning. I finally had to ask myself, does the house need to be perfect for me to be happy? Dying to perfectionism was hard, but everyone in our family benefited when I let go of my spotless standards. Even me.
Sixth, look to God, not your husband, to meet your needs. I grew up listening to ’60s and ’70s rock music–today’s oldies. I-can’t-live-without-you-baby and you-fill-up-my-life filled my head and heart during my teen and young adult years. I was in my thirties before I realized that romantic love had become an idol to me. Fanned into flame by movies, books, and songs, I wanted my husband to fill all of my empty places. When I was in pain, he was insensitive. When I was harried, he didn’t help me enough. Lee Ezell sums it up beautifully by saying that we fall into thinking, “someday my prince will come,” just like Cinderella.
“It all comes down to seeking the Kingdom of God first,” counsels Carol Golz. “We tend to seek other things first and then we look to God.” Some have called our theology “the God of the gaps.” We think we can run after everything–success, money, love–then ask God to fill any leftover gaps.
But that is not the way God works. He will meet our needs, but only as we yield our lives to him, obeying him in the little things and the big things.
Last Saturday, I was getting ready for our Saturday night youth service when I heard God tell me something filled with profound spiritual insight: get a sitter. I glanced at five-year-old Sarah. She was tired. And I needed to lead the prayer ministry team by myself because my husband was on the road, driving a truck loaded with Christmas trees back from Pennsylvania with his 82-year-old father and our son, Sammy.
The urge to get a sitter was so strong that several times I almost reached for the phone. But my analytical side took over. I know Sarah is tired, I thought, but she always enjoys the service. Besides, Sam said he would stop by the church on his way home. If she gets too tired I can always send her home with him.
I fed Sarah dinner and off we went, arriving early so I could meet with the other members of the prayer team to intercede for the upcoming service. When it was time for the service to begin, I emerged from the prayer closet looking for my husband. He wasn’t there.
Where is he? I wondered. Finally, I called home at 7:30. He was home. The trip had been horrendous, he told me, the truck overloaded and hard to control. He was utterly exhausted. Sammy was already in bed asleep. “Sweetheart,” he reminded me, “I never said I would come by the church, I said I would try to come. I didn’t know you were counting on me.”
By this time Sarah was moving from tired …..to hyper! I was frustrated. I wanted to blame Sam. I was sure he had said he would come by the church.. Or blame Sarah. She shouldn’t be acting like this!
But God showed me that He had tried to provide a way of escape. He tried to tell me to leave Sarah home with a sitter. If I had obeyed, my tired daughter would be home with my tired husband. They both could be snuggled in dreamland.
I spent the evening in the nursery with Sarah drawing purple cows and green pigs. I wanted to be in the service, but there was no one to blame but me.
I will always be thankful that God made me face an ugly part of myself that I tried desperately to hide. My hiding place was a prison. Idealistic to the core, I had thought that marriage would buffer me from life’s woes. But we still have to face the cross. We still face disappointments and heartaches. I’ve learned to see those trials as God’s provision–his way of molding me and shaping me to be more like Jesus.
After all, isn’t that what our life in Christ is all about?
©2005 Elizabeth Stalcup