Question: What should I do? I want a peaceful home, but there’s “anger fireworks,” from my spouse, when I lest expect it.
Part One of the Answer: Never underestimate the power of one softened heart to influence the other heart. (Check out the post, I Want a Peaceful Home.)
Part Two of the answer:
Soften your own heart, regardless, if your spouse does or doesn’t.
You (the non-angry spouse) need a soft heart yourself and if you don’t have it, you need to get one for God, others, and yourself. Softening our hearts can sometimes involve a difficult and painful process. Let’s look at the first step in that direction.
1. Softening my heart begins when I allow God to show me the true condition of my heart.
We just assume the needed changes should start with our spouse. It’s natural for you to think the other person is the main problem, and maybe they are.
But, the softening process has to begin somewhere, and the only person that you can allow God to change is you. “Who can say, `I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9)
2. I ask God to show me the specific emotional pain and sin issue(s) in my heart.
A hard heart is caused by two primary factors: emotional pain and sinful choices. If we focus on heart pain only, it will encourage us to look at our life entirely through the grid of past emotionally damaging or traumatic life experiences.
Yet, even if we are able to successfully address all our past emotional wounds, will we find lasting peace in our lives? Not if we fail to appreciate, at the same time, the spiritual dimensions of a hard heart. Emotional pain heart blockage is compounded by our sinful choices and prideful attitudes. Pursuing heart healing on a purely horizontal level, without addressing the vertical nature of our heart issues, is a serious mistake.
On the other hand many well-intentioned Christian leaders encourage us to view our heart problems exclusively through the grid of past sins and moral failures. We are hurting, they will counsel, because we have not dealt as thoroughly as needed with our past or present sins. Unfortunately, this exclusively vertical approach to heart issues often provides no lasting relief for many people.
Why? Not because sin isn’t a real issue in your lives, but because this approach fails to recognize the role of emotional pain in locking up a human heart, “Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst (Psalm 69:20).”
Sin may not be the primary issue, but the soul-searing wounds inflicted by heartless people. Your inner-pain may be the result of a parent who never expressed genuine love for you or abused you. Or the emotional aftermath of a divorce that occurred when you were young. Or the reason you feel emotionally numb is that you learned early in life to disassociate your feelings, whenever painful situations arise.
One of the primary problems, with treating emotional pain issues as if they were a sin issue, is that it can trap a hurting person, in a cycle of despair. Because your heartfelt confessions of sin do not produce the relief you are desperately seeking, you conclude God is either unwilling to forgive you or you have been insincere (or forgotten something) in your confession. The devil takes advantage of your confusion and locks your heart into near-permanent despair or depression. A poor soul can come to the conclusion they are beyond hope or help. That’s why we reiterate:
3. Sin and emotional pain each must be dealt with for the human heart to know true freedom.
Jesus was aware how painful experiences can harden the human heart. Read the Gospel accounts of His life and you’ll notice how He often approached truly hurting people. He first cared about their emotional pain and then later addressed their sinful actions.
Take Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria. Being God, He knows from the start she is living with a man in an unmarried state. Yet in John 4:7-9, Jesus begins their conversation this way, “Will you give me a drink?’ (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, `You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans)” Jesus did the unthinkable for an orthodox Jewish man at that time. He sat down and talked with a Gentile woman in public. Not just any woman either for she was a woman with a `reputation.’
When Jesus dignifies her by asking for a drink she is shocked. He is perhaps the first man who ever spoke to her as a person rather than as an object of gossip or lust. His caring kindness (emotional healing) reaches her heart. She begins to ask searching spiritual questions.
Once she knows He cares about her, He is able to address the sin issues in her life (spiritual healing), “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true (4:16-18).”
She hurries into town to tell everyone she has met the promised Messiah. The story reminds us of the powerful truth of Romans 2:4, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” It is the kindness of Jesus that leads her to repent of her life of adultery.
4. We can ask God to show us our emotional pain issues and our sin issues – and He will.
The Psalmist put it this way, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24).”
Paul reminds us in Romans 8:27, “And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” ”
While it is God who performs the true heart exam, He often uses a variety of tools or instruments to accomplish this. He may use a Christian counselor or pastor who is able to help uncover things in our heart that we never recognized before.
Or God may use a close friend to help us understand issues at work in our hearts. Proverbs tells us to welcome such insights, even if they are painful at first, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted (Galatians 6:1).”
5. God uses His inspired and inerrant Word – the Bible – to show us what’s in our hearts.
We are assuming that you are already a believer, that you have confessed your sins, placed your faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross and the blood shed by Christ, as the sacrifice for your sins and have begun your personal relationship with Him. Otherwise, check out Need Him
The Scriptures say, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).”
Worldly regret over our sins and shortcomings feels like a hammer and we are the nail. It punishes, discourages and ultimately produces a feeling of death. But, God’s convicting work does just the opposite. It woos and draws us irresistibly back to God. It ultimately saves us from destruction and leaves no regret. Godly sorrow is strong, but not dangerous. It is penetrating, but not damaging. It is inescapable, but not fatal. It is at its very nature life-giving, liberating, and joyous.
Never underestimate the power of God’s Word to transform a hardened heart. That’s why it’s important you spend significant time daily in God’s Word. We recommend reading five chapters a day. We know that sounds rather daunting, particularly if you’re not used to reading even one chapter a day.
Yet, we have a simple plan that will help you accomplish it. Each day read two chapters of the Old Testament, one chapter of the Psalms, one of Proverbs, and one chapter from the New Testament. Guess what? It will take you approximately 20-30 minutes to do so. If you follow that simple discipline, you’ll have read through the entire Bible in one year. Trust us, it will have a profound and life-changing influence on softening your heart.
And, pray often throughout the day.
6. We encourage you to use The Personal Heart Exam inventory by Bob and Cheryl Moeller. (Please email us and we will email you a free copy of the Personal Heart Exam, a short survey (seven pages) for you to take, written by Bob and Cheryl Moeller. Take it at home, after you print it off, and it will help to show you how well it is with your soul.)
The Personal Heart Exam is by no means a substitute for God’s Spirit speaking to you through God’s Word. Yet, it can supplement and help clarify what you are learning from Scripture and prayer.
We recommend taking The Personal Heart Exam, separate from your mate. Share the results only, if and when, the moment is right. However, if there are serious problems between the two of you, it’s best to do it in the presence of a trained Biblical counselor or pastor.
You might be thinking by now, that discovering the true condition of your heart is the equivalent of undergoing a root canal with no anesthesia. Who needs the pain? Listen to this reassuring promise from Scripture, “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal (Job 5:17-18).” It does indeed hurt at times to discover what’s in our hearts. Yet, that’s when God is able to do a softening work in our heart. The joy that follows makes the process something you will come to cherish, rather than resent.
7. God will do whatever He has to do to soften our hearts, if we allow Him to do so.
God is on your side. He wants to soften your heart. It’s not that you need more of God, He needs more of you.
Letting God soften our heart is much like the discipline process the writer of Hebrews talks about: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:7,9).
When God is through with the process of softening our hearts, the rewards will far outweigh the costs. The harvest of righteousness and peace that Scriptures promise is just one way of describing the new sense of love that you will feel. Jesus taught that enduring hardship will reap lasting rewards of joy.
8. We must confess each area of our hardness of heart to God.
This principle is explained further in James 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
9. Biblical confession means to whole-heartedly agree with God that we have done something wrong and it needs to stop.
To soften our heart will require we agree with God where we have acted wrongly. We need to repent of our sins.
Our past sexual behavior is not the only area where we need confession and renunciation. What about the cruel and heartless things we’ve said to our spouse? What about the deep and bitter feelings we’ve harbored toward other people? What about our years of self-focus that made our own lives and goals the center of our attention?
Not only is honest confession needed to soften our hearts, but so is the next step which may be the most difficult choice we’ll ever make.
10. To soften our heart we must choose to forgive everyone who has hurt us.
In some respects forgiveness is the opposite side of confession. In confession we admit we owe others a moral debt, in forgiveness we admit others owe us a moral debt-one we must release them from.
Next we will discuss putting boundaries in place, when you are married to an angry spouse.
We suggest reading Biblical Concept Counseling Workbook: Identifying and Resolving Personal and Marital Problems by John Regier, Colorado Springs: Biblical Concepts in Counseling.
Questions or Information: firstname.lastname@example.org