By Elaine Pratt —
In my role at Amnion Pregnancy Center, I often sit across from a woman who is making a decision about her unplanned pregnancy. It is a terrifying time of crisis for her, and a weighty reality for me. Emphatically, I want her to choose life for her baby.
In this difficult place, two truths have guided me, providing needed perspective:
God created each person in His image, and part of this is her right to make her own decision.
God is the one who changes hearts and minds. I do not. I may influence, but the choice made is between her and God.
The practical implications of these truths shape my goals for every conversation:
Did I present truth in an accurate, winsome, and compelling way?
Did I respect her right as decision-maker?
Did I love her well?
This is a very different goal than getting her to choose life for her baby (as much as I might want that!). And it is significant in that it directly impacts my behavior and antics when I am with her.
I could manipulate, threaten, beg, emotionally abuse, shame, or badger to gain a win. I could raise my voice, show graphic pictures, assert my authority, or throw a Bible verse in her face. Here, my inner bully wants to raise its big, arrogant head and say, “I’m right, after all, doesn’t the end result call for drastic means?”
This paradigm has much broader application than a pregnancy center. In any relationship where one hopes to influence another, the same truth applies. Consider the following examples: Parent to adult/teen child, husband to wife or wife to husband, pastor to church member, saved person to lost friend, quarantine-follower to a non-quarantine follower, political opponents to each other, etc.
The rightness of a certain outcome does not negate the truth that God has innately created each person in His image as his/her own decision-maker, and God alone is responsible for change. My role can only be one of influence.
Yet in our ambitious desire for another’s wise choices, we can choose foolish means that are ineffective in truly influencing him/her and weaken the very relationship that is the best means to effect a good decision.
What do I mean?
In places of authority, we decree a certain belief, decision, or choice is to be made.
“I’m your dad, and I say so…!” “You may not like this, but this is how it is…” “You WILL do this….” Or in a setting requiring greater finesse, we state things with good manners but without thoughtful consideration of the others’ perspective, almost in dismissal—because we can.
*I’m not discounting the legitimate places parental authority rightly dictates behavior. This should taper with age, however.
We bully another through argument, superior verbal skill, or intellectual prowess. Or we just repeatedly keep bringing it up.
We raise our voice.
We push, cajole, badger, ridicule, attack, or use scripture as a club.
We sever or distance relationships when a choice is not in line with our thinking.
Unknowingly, in doing the above, we sabotage the very outcome we desire.
In contrast, I’ve observed in my counseling that the most fertile soil for influence is a trusted, safe, respect-filled environment where I listen and ask questions that allow her thoughts to be heard. I try to understand the other’s position, and I offer patient respect. It’s a place where truth is shared gently, winsomely, sometimes with a firm warning, but with the results left in God’s hand.
I’ve been on the other side, have you? Where my thoughts, feelings, judgements or perspective of an issue or incident are deemed irrelevant or simply dismissed. It’s a hurtful spot, and it shuts down any meaningful dialogue. Influence is strongest in the midst of deep, committed relational trust. (“Speaking truth in love” Ephesians 4:15.) Love is a powerful persuader, much more effective than the pushy voice of one’s inner bully.
Actually, this reminds me a lot of the gospel. Jesus doesn’t force his way into our lives. He woos us with an offer we can’t refuse: undeserved love, mercy and grace offered via gentle, scar-laden hands stretched out in invitation. I’m not discounting wrath. It’s real. But He doesn’t lead with this.
When you face a situation with another where you are deeply concerned for their choice(s), and you want so badly to speak into their lives, don’t give in to your inner bully. Instead, consider the example of Christ.
And as a helpful metaphor, this simple fable is a favorite of mine:
The Sun & the Wind – Aesop’s fable
The North Wind and the Sun had a quarrel about which of them was the stronger. While they were disputing, a traveler passed along the road wrapped in a cloak.
“Let us agree,” said the Sun, “that he is the stronger who can strip that traveler of his cloak.”
“Very well,” growled the North Wind, and at once sent a cold, howling blast against the traveler.
With the first gust of wind the cloak whipped about the traveler’s body. But he immediately wrapped it closely around him, and the harder the Wind blew, the tighter he held it to him. The North Wind tore angrily at the cloak, but all his efforts were in vain.
Then the Sun began to shine. At first his beams were gentle, and in the pleasant warmth, the traveler unfastened his cloak and let it hang loosely from his shoulders. The Sun’s rays grew warmer and warmer. At last he became so heated that he pulled off his cloak to escape the blazing sunshine and threw himself down in the welcome shade of a tree by the roadside.
Moral: Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.
“A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
“A word fitly spoken is like
apples of gold in a setting of silver.”