Saturday, May 14, 2022

Be Free of Trying to Change Other People


                                                   (Woman, selling sock, in Istanbul, Turkey)

Years ago God told me, “John, why are you trying so hard to change other people when you can’t even change your own self?” I have come to the freeing conclusion that: we cannot change other people. Only God can. So I can let go of trying to do that.

One result of this insight is that Linda and I rarely, if ever, “advise” others. We only do it if requested. This is because unasked-for advice is usually received as criticism. For example, if I saw you today and said, “Did you know that Macys has some nice shirts on sale?”, you would think, “John doesn’t like my shirt.”

If I want your advice I’ll ask for it. I do ask people for advice, on a variety of things. If the advice is about something personal, I ask people who know me, love me, are themselves vulnerable and open, and trustworthy. When Linda gives me unsolicited advice (like, “Your pant zipper is down”) it always comes out of care for me.

In relationships, and in ministry, the desire to change other people is toxic. I like how Thomas Merton puts it. Merton writes: “Nothing is more suspicious, in a man who seems holy, than an impatient desire to reform other men. A serious obstacle to recollection is the mania for directing those you have not been asked to reform… Renounce this futile concern with other men’s affairs! Pay as little attention as you can to the faults of other people and none at all to their natural defects and eccentricities.” (New Seeds of Contemplation, 255)

If God shows you another person’s fault it’s mostly so you can pray for them.

Before God, be concerned with your own transformation into Christlikeness. Pray "change my heart, O God." That prayer will keep you occupied all your life. To such a person, God will send people who desire change. That's called influence.

(The parent-child relationship is different. As is the teacher-student relationship. As are hierarchical-authority relationships, when acknowledged and willingly submitted to. Like, e.g., a sports coach who shows their athlete what they need to do to perform at a higher level.)