September 27, 2016

How to Respond When Your Love is Called Hate

Gary Thomas — 

How to Respond When Your Love is Called Hate

How many times have you done what you genuinely believed was best for your kids or spouse—your entire motivation was their well-being—and they responded with, “Why do you hate me?”

It’s excruciating to exhibit love and have the person you love respond with charges of hate.

You do something for your spouse, or say something to your spouse, and in your heart of hearts your motivation is pure love. You want their best. And your spouse acts as if you’re just plain mean. (While Lisa and I have plenty of faults, I don’t think my wife has ever treated me this way—at least, I can’t remember if she has. But I’ve talked to plenty of couples who must endure this with each other.)

When your kids and your spouse agree, and you’re the only one standing, it’s even worse. I hope that never happens in your home, but I’ve heard accounts.

It might be a friend, an in-law, or a fellow employee. If you’re facing a situation like this, it may encourage you to know you’re not alone. Israel was enslaved by Egypt for 400 years when God called Moses to deliver them from slavery. About six weeks after leaving Egypt, and just a few weeks after witnessing an amazing miracle (walking through the Red Sea), the people got hungry. Their relatively few days of hunger made them forget all about the centuries of slavery:

“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained about Moses…” (Exodus 16:2)

The whole congregation. Everyone hated him. And then they even questioned his motives: “You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Yeah, see, Moses was this rich young prince who decided he’d prefer to leave the palace only so that he could starve the Hebrews. Imagine how Moses must have heard this: “You’re just a genocidal maniac.” “We’d rather follow Pharaoh than you.” “We prefer Egypt’s slavery to your freedom.”

Moses gave up so much, he put up with so much, and the people’s “gratitude” wasn’t just tepid; it was vile, degrading, and angry.

When you follow God, you can’t assume that people will think you’re motivated by love for Him and love for others. Many times, your love will be called hate.

So what do we do?

First, we can’t allow charges of hatred to keep us from loving with the truth. God is love and God is truth. To sacrifice truth in the name of love is tantamount to sacrificing food in the name of feeding.

Second, we appeal to a higher authority

While I’m not suggesting that what I’m about to say will “work,” it’s still an important strategy: Moses and Aaron spoke back to Israel and said, “What are we, that you complain against us?” They added, “Your complaining is not against us, but against the Lord.” (vv. 7-8)

Point out to your children or spouse the biblical principle you’re standing on. “This isn’t about me. This is what the Bible says. Your issue is with God, not with me agreeing with Him.”

Don’t let this become about you. It’s not your opinion that counts. It’s not whether you are respected (in this instance). You’re making your appeal to a higher power.

Nobody will go to hell for disagreeing with me; if I’m in the wrong, they’ll be commended for it! But anyone who disagrees with God risks facing unimaginable horror. What is up ahead for them is far, far worse than any pain I might feel over their current attitude toward me.  We need to be more concerned about the state of their souls than we are about whether they think we’re nice or polite or intelligent or politely tolerant.

The Bible speaks of sin clouding a person’s judgment and destroying their understanding. If someone has given themselves over to sin, in that area they may have certain blind spots where they wouldn’t recognize love if it bit them on the nose until they bled.

In your family, with a spouse or children, keep your appeal tied to Scripture. When I’m working with younger premarried couples, certain issues may arise where people no longer accept the Bible’s clear teaching. I’ve had to say, “You can disagree with me because I agree with the Bible, but that means what you have to wrestle with is the Bible. I just want you to show me how I’m misunderstanding the Bible if you think I am.”

That puts the conversation on an entirely different plane. (I fully recognize that many no longer accept the Bible as their authority, but that’s a different discussion altogether.)

Remember: it’s not about you. It’s about Him. If I’m reading the Bible in error, I want to be corrected. But if the person I’m talking to has a problem with the Bible, I have to expect and accept that they are going to have a problem with me. That’s just basic Christian discipleship.

Jesus said people will hate us even while accusing us of hate because that’s the way they treated Him. We love, and they call it hate. They hate, yet call it love. Don’t be surprised when that comes true in your own life. We’ve been warned!

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12 responses to How to Respond When Your Love is Called Hate

  1. The attacks continue endlessly. He is never happy. I try to hold fast, endure and to still love him. But he is never happy and uses attacks (personal, mocking, nastiness) to get what he wants – but that never works.
    What else can I do?
    I finally read through Sacred Influence. I get the concepts. But he only sees his “pain” and never mine. I don’t know what else I can do!!

  2. What an amazingly timed article. It gives me a sense of peace. My husband is in the midst of losing his mind over sin that is costing him his health, family, and soul. All I can say to him is repent and ask God to work it out for you. He knows God is real but he is unwilling to pay the consequences of walking away from the sin. I have never watched something as sad to see someone hate themselves for their sins but willing to destroy 6 lives to continue in it. Jesus saves. All you have to do is accept Him. It literally is breaking my heart and terrifies me that one day, my children will ask me if he went to Heaven when he dies and my answer won’t be an emphatic yes as of right now.

  3. I think that’s just it – it’s all about winning the argument and asserting his ‘headship’, not about leading.
    Thank you for the reply Gary!
    Whenever I have approached such things he only sees it as a challenge. I do admit, I was not good about it in the past, and I’ve admitted that to him. Now I try to come to him and ask such things but he only sees me as questioning his headship and that gets forcefully rejected or ignored. I have no way to approach him anymore.
    He applies everything to this, not just things from the bible. Adiaphora too – because it’s *his* to apply, you know?
    I hope to get Sacred Influence soon, but if he sees that he’ll likely think I’m trying to find ways to manipulate him, etc. So I’ll have to read it when I can and pray for understanding and help, and heaps of humility too.

    • So I’m asking for help with that…it’s been extremely heated lately. He says I never do anything right – it’s attack after attack. I try to listen, understand, ask for correction, guidance… and then he’s a wall. But its always about him winning and making sure he puts me in my place. 🙁
      It’s heartbreaking.

      • I’m praying for you today. That is the most important thing you or I can do. Your situation sounds heartbreaking, which is why I am taking the risk to respond. But it does not sound like it is beyond the power of God to restore and make right.

        You are deeply loved by God, and “Your place” is to be clothed with the strength and dignity that God has given you. (Proverbs 31; explained in Beth Moore’s book: So Long, Insecurity).

        I’m sharing the rest of this in case any of it helps you, as it has helped me.

        Sacred Influence is an excellent book, as is Sacred Marriage, (also by Gary Thomas). I have shared both of them with friends multiple times over the years.

        Another book (by a different author) which significantly helped my marriage was “Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy for Dummies”. We worked through it with a counselor who we found through the index in the back of the book, but you can also read it alone. Gary Thomas’s books were helpful for me to maintain the heart to love my husband as God wants me to love him. This book was the best I have found so far for the “how to” that met our particular need.

        It starts with the assumption that “If I was in your exact situation, I would probably respond to it in the same way you are.” For both spouses. And then it walked us through the steps to each get to a better situation. Where both of us felt safer and more heard in communication, and we had a lot more peace in our relationship.

        As far as praying for your husband, this perspective comes to mind. I am reminded of a quote by Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years as a political prisoner before becoming president of his country. He said: “I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”

        Pray for your husband’s humanity to be restored. Pray for God’s love to so seep into his heart that it becomes full and overflows to everyone around him. Pray for your husband to know, down to the very core of his being that he is truly and completely loved. Pray for him to know that God’s grace is sufficient even to cover the ways he has so often hurt you, once he is finally ready to recognize the pain he is causing. Pray for God to convict him of that, rather than the message coming from you. And pray for the courage to live in such a way that your husband can experience this grace-filled love from you too.

        I have been told that those who do not love others well, at the core, have not fully received how much God loves them. God’s love transforms.

  4. Gary, this was an excellent article. A few thoughts: Husbands will sometimes try to “trump” a wife with, “I’m the head of the house and you are interpreting the bible wrong, therefore, you are wrong”. This is magnified even moreso when the husband is a pastor.
    Would you please speak to that? I have struggled with this personally for a very long time.
    There is no way, that I can see, to work with that way of thinking.

    • C, three times (once in the Old Testament, and twice in the New–James and Peter) we’re told that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” We need to be humble students of the word. We need to listen to the voice of Christ in the mouths of others. My next post, in fact, will talk about how I do this with my wife–looking to see how Christ reveals himself to me through her.

      This applies to your husband by him pausing to consider that you may see an angle he is missing. And it applies to you that he may well be correct that you are misunderstanding the context. You’re both accountable to the same word, and you’re both called to a humble pursuit of God’s truth over your own opinions.

      Playing the “I’m the head of the house” card is a rather demeaning thing to say to your wife, to be honest. It diminishes her when it’s said with that tone and with that intent. Even if he’s right about applying the Bible in that particular instance, the attitude is wrong. I think a better approach would be for the two of you to do further study together–there are plenty of academic authorities to appeal to these days, and then you and your husband can be joined together in your pursuit of the truth. Can you try continuing the conversation with, “Can you show me how what I’m thinking is wrong? I really want to get this right.” But don’t say it as a challenge, as much as a humble pursuit of the truth.

      And this is assuming that both of you are, in fact, pursuing the truth, not seeking to win an argument. Remember, I said in this post that if someone disagrees with me and I’m wrong, I want them to stand up and help me see where I’m wrong. Can you maintain that attitude as well?

      Every one of my spiritual formation books (except for Sacred Pathways) and most of my marriage books have entire chapters on humility, because humility is the foundation of character growth. I’d encourage you to pray for your husband’s humility, except for the fact that such a prayer is scary–the path to get there can be brutal as much as it is spiritually fruitful.

  5. Thanks. Appreciate this post.

  6. Thanks Gary. You’re right, its all come from heart.

  7. Wow… Your words this morning are giving me the strength I need to speak with my son. He is going through a rough patch because he is far from God. We have been praying earnestly for him to humble himself before God. Thank you for these words today and please pray that he receives what I sense very strongly the Lord wants me to share with him. Pray for the time today and for the words to say. Thank you.

    • Lorraine, I’m regularly praying that God will help with the timing of these posts, so I’m glad in your case, at least, that it proved timely. I’ve prayed and will ask readers to do the same. Think about it everyone: if each person going through these comments offered up even a quick prayer for Lorraine, it could result in hours of intercession…

  8. That’s what hurts the most when my adult child disagrees with me — she’s really having a problem with what the Bible teaches, and that’s between her and God. You’re right — it’s not about me. It’s about God. Speaking truth in love is not always easy, but it is necessary. Then we simply continue to pray for hearts to change.