The Hinge of the Doorway to a Locked Heart May be Very Small

By Keith Miller | June 15, 2009

Keith, I am a deacon in the church and people tell me I’m a good witness for Christ in our community. But behind closed doors in our family things are often very tense, snippy and hard-headed. There are certain things concerning the roles of husband and wife that I insist of because I was taught that way and I’m not willing to consider changing because I’m standing on principles. How can a Christian give up the principles he was raised on without violating his integrity?

The longer I am involved in the Christian life, the more clearly I see that the beginnings of significant lifelong changes often hinge on seemingly insignificant discoveries and decisions in the intimate arena of personal relationships.

Some years ago about twelve of us got together to form a small group. We were trying to find out how we could learn to be God’s people away from the church during the week. This was a new adventure that was exciting for most of the group.* The idea was to attempt various experiments in our lives during the week and then report to the group what happened to us. We decided that we would not tell anyone outside the group what we were doing, since some of our experiments (like listening) involved our spouses, children or friends.

Our plan was to begin in our families and work outward into the world. During the first week we were to look around, listen in our homes and see what we were doing to bug the people we live with, and then pray about our behavior to see if we could change it. Usually in prayer groups we had looked for those things other people were doing to bother us and then pray for them to change. This is a very different approach.

The next week was an interesting one. One member of our group was a lovely, pleasingly plump, white-haired woman, who was very attractive. At the first meeting I remember thinking that Lillian looked almost angelic . . . with a slight twinkle in her eye. She didn’t seem to have any problems and prayed sweet, sincere prayers. Frankly, I wondered how she got in our group. Lillian had not said much so far, but she came into the next meeting like a rodeo rider out of chute four. She was so excited she was practically bubbling over. When I asked the group about the experiment, all Lillian could say was, “You all, it’s the shirts!”

All I could think to say was, “Would you like to talk about it?”

She went on, “I’m from the old South. And when I got married, my mother told me ‘Don’t you ever iron any man’s shirts. That’s not wives’ work.’ So after the honeymoon, twenty-five years ago, I told my husband I was not going to iron his shirts. he was a struggling student at that time, and we didn’t have very much money, but he had to send his shirts out. After a few years, he developed a rash on his neck and had to wear shirts that required hand ironing. So for sixteen years Bill has been getting up on Saturday mornings and ironing his own shirts—right in front of me—while I fixed breakfast. We were both Christians, but about that time we started going to different churches.”

She stopped talking and put her fist against her mouth, and her bosom shook with an involuntary sob. In a moment she went on with tears in her eyes: “This week I discovered that all my guilt and self-hate as a woman, all of the wrangling and separation I’ve caused in our marriage, stem from the fact that I wouldn’t iron Bill’s shirts. I’ve prayed all week, and I don’t know if I can do anything this late to change things for Bill . . . But I’d like for you to pray for me that I will.” And we did.

Well, I don’t know what Lillian did at home those next few days, but the following week Bill showed up at the meeting, smiling from ear to ear. And they came to the group together regularly, like two happy kids, until Lillian died suddenly of a stroke a year later. But you know, that couple found each other, found a new kind of life together after twenty-five years.

What is that experience worth in terms of changing the world? I don’t know, but watching it happen changed the rest of us in that group somehow. We began to see that the closed doors in our lives and relationships which we have been trying to batter down with argument and reason all these years—that those doors often swing open when we become willing to oil some small rusty hinges, change some little things . . . like the shirts.

“Indeed, this need of individuals to be right is so great that they are willing to sacrifice themselves, their relationships, and even love for it. This need to be right is also one which produces hostility and cruelty, and causes people to say things that shut them off from communication with both God and man.”

Reuel Howe,The Miracle of Dialogue

Lord, help me to have the courage to look for the little inner walls and fortresses in my relationships, behind which I protect my pride. Forgive me for camouflaging these defenses and calling them “matters of principle” when so often they are only means to keep from having to admit that I have been wrong and wanted to be number one. I guess this is what has always made you so threatening to me. When you expose my self-justifying defenses, I either have to confess them or put you down . . . which is what I guess we tried to do on the Cross. And I still try to put you down when you get close to revealing the motives I have hidden. Help me, Lord, not to cling to my “rights” but to unclench my spiritual fist so that I can be free to follow you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Let your attitude to life be that of Christ Jesus himself. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his privileges as God’s equal, but stripped himself of every advantage by consenting to be a slave . . . and . . . he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, to the point of death . . .

Philippians 2:5-8 PHILLIPS

Topics: Christian Living | Comments Off on The Hinge of the Doorway to a Locked Heart May be Very Small
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