I’m a little critical. OK. A lot critical. I blame it on being Chinese. If the Bible writes “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” the Chinese version would be “I criticize you because I love you.” So for our Lenten discipline, some friends and I decided to do the Love Dare with our husbands. Each day, we were supposed to follow the dare of the day. I got stuck on Day 5
Ask your spouse to tell you three things that cause him or her to be uncomfortable or irritated with you. You must do so without attacking them or justifying your behavior. This is from their perspective only.
I just couldn’t bring myself to ask him these questions for several reasons,
1) How do you naturally ask “Honey, what 3 things irritate you the most about me?” without him being suspicious?
2) He and I were both traveling a lot, and who wants to ask a difficult question and then listen to the answer during our daily check-in?
3) I was a coward.
However, Day 1 was challenge enough:
For the next day, resolve to demonstrate patience and to say nothing negative to your spouse at all. If the temptation arises, choose not to say anything. It’s better to hold your tongue than to say something you’ll regret.
It’s hard enough to hold my tongue for a day, turns out the Day 1 challenge lasts the whole darn 40 days. Forget Days 6-40, practicing Day 1 was enough of a Lenten discipline, something my spiritual director recognized. She said I didn’t need any other Lenten discipline.
So how did I do and what did I learn?
1. Hard, hard, hard. Not as hard to refrain from saying negative things in general, but hard as all get out to say nothing negative if I felt criticized or attacked. Everything in me wants to defend myself to the hilt (my reaction to Chinese loving parenting), and defending myself also often involves getting in some punches. For years my friends have challenged me to stop defending myself, and for years I’ve been incapable. However, resolving to say nothing negative means it’s pretty hard to engage in familiar patterns.2. Zip up. Every time I felt like saying anything, I just zipped. My former spiritual director used to mime zipping her lips as her responsibility in spiritual direction. I literally imagined zipping my lips multiple times
3. Zip. Even if I’m co-dependent. I felt most tempted to say something when I thought Scott was engaging in habits that aren’t healthy. But it’s not like I haven’t said those things before, and my nagging hasn’t changed him. The challenge became to pray rather than criticize.
4. Relative success. I did pretty well. Some negative things did cross my lips—sometimes not about him, but about someone he cared about—and each time it didn’t go well, reinforcing how much zipping was helping overall.
Turns out, this discipline was probably the perfect discipline not only for Lent, but going through the trauma of Scott losing a parent. There were times I was tempted to whine, but zipped instead. Our marriage became much more enjoyable when I lessened the negativity.
The strange thing about giving up a “sin” for Lent, is that on Easter I couldn’t celebrate by letting loose. In fact, I think the whole point is to pray that I’m transformed instead. They say it takes 6 weeks to form a new habit—exactly the time frame of Lent. So maybe the power that raised Jesus will also change me.
Until then, I’ll keep on imagining zipping my lips.