“If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Six years ago my husband walked into the kitchen when he got home from work and said something that almost blew up our marriage:
“Honey, let’s rearrange the kitchen cabinets. What if we put the glasses in this one? And…”
The glass whizzing by his face interrupted him.
“6 p.m., dinner on the stove, preschool WWF ensuing, and a crying baby wrapped in a sling around my torso, and the man wants to add a task to my life?” I fumed.
He was lucky only one glass came his way just then. His suggestion seemed so insensitive, so clueless, so hurtful to a mom of 2 then-foster kids who was still trying to figure out which way was up.
It was God’s grace that within the week, a friend at church pointed me toward the idea of living our strengths. I read a book on that and did some work to figure out my own strengths over the coming weeks. And something miraculous happened. I realized my husband must have strengths too!
(Yeah, I know. How can that be, with the comment about the cabinets? I mean, really??!)
But it was true. And that moment – that realization – saved my marriage. Because it opened my eyes to the two questions that can make any relationship great:
- What strength are they trying to live right now?
- How can I see it so we’re on the same team?
Goethe’s quote above says it all: when we see people as they are (or as they appear to be, as was our case), we make them worse. But if we treat them as they ought to be – as if they’re coming at us with good intentions – we help them become who they’re capable of being. We give them a chance, in their frailties, to be great. And we open our eyes to see God’s power working in their weaknesses and goofiness.
When we ask the right questions the relationship can go beyond survive, and truly thrive.
As we learn to join the ones we love (even when we don’t like them just then!) to somehow “boast in their weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on them” we help them be amazing, too.
As I started to see my husband’s seemingly heartless comments for what they really were – him musing and thinking of ideas, a strength of his – I made an important discovery. Since one of my strengths is “get ‘er done. NOW” I heard “let’s do this” as “get it done yesterday.” Which isn’t what he meant at all.
That’s where the second question comes in: How can I see it so we’re on the same team? Turns out that was simple: ask him “Honey, is this a fully baked (ie. “get ‘er done!”) idea? Or a pondering?” It shocked me how many times he answered the latter. And over time, I learned to relax when he thought out loud. To see it as his mind and heart working as God designed – a beautiful gift of creativity and imagination (and gracious forgiveness for my hot-headedness!).
Some will read this and immediately think, “No, this won’t work. You don’t understand. That person isn’t actually good, and they’ve hurt me deeply.” And that’s true. None of us are good like God’s good.* This one may not deserve a place in your inner circle right now if their choices and behavior aren’t lined up with God’s heart.
But that doesn’t stop you from thinking in line with these questions. It just might mean that being on their team means holding the line with some strong boundaries and natural consequences for their behavior.
For the rest of your relationships,
I dare you to start asking these two powerful questions today.
It might just unlock the connections that you long for, like it has for me.