There is something imbedded deep in all of us that draws us to a works-based acceptance. It’s just easier to get along with others when they are doing things we like. This seems to be especially true for women. While men can and do struggle with these same tendencies, we’re going to look specifically at how women can be works-based in their relationships.
With Your Friends
Women are often more focused on building and growing friendships than men. We take time to really get to know and connect with friends. Women often do both recreational and non-recreational things with friends. I have cooked, cleaned, grocery shopped, and exercised with my friends as a way to connect.
Appreciating friendship is easy when it’s supportive, cooperative, and convenient. However, if friendship is always easy, you may be simply basking in a shallow pool of met expectations. Do you maintain the same level of connectedness when your friend becomes difficult? What about when her children become difficult? Scripture speaks of friendship as being willing to lay down your life for another (John 15:13). If you find that your friends become an intrusion when things get difficult you may have a works-based friendship.
With Your Children
Moms are in constant demand. There is so much to be done in a day; laundry, cleaning, shopping, caring for the kids, meals, and on goes the perpetual list. So, when a child makes life easier, it is natural to express love and appreciation for them. Unfortunately, our kids will not always naturally oblige themselves to helping. Instead we end up dictating what needs to be done. This can become so common that our kids see us more as task manager than mother.
When they step up to help it is easy to give them praise and smiles. But when they go about their day walking around piles of laundry, adding yet another dish to the sink or counter, or bickering about meaningless issues, our interaction with them begins to change. Is the response they get one of displeasure unless they are “doing the right thing”? If so it would be very logical for a young child to translate this as, “Mommy loves me most when I’m good.”
Older children are no exception. My teens can quickly see the displeasure on my face as I walk into the still messy room. They also keenly observe the smile and relief when they do what they are told without pushback. This habitual interaction can lead them to view their acceptance as based on their good behavior, helpfulness, and compliance. Even into their adult years they will hold to the conclusion that they are most loved by their performance. They may even translate this to how God operates. Are you a expressing your love and acceptance to your children in who they are and not just what they do? When correction is needed do you make it a point to affirm your love to them regardless of their behavior?
With Our Husband
Next to being works-based with the children, women may find that their spouse can be the easiest person to relate to in a compensating way. Familiarization and the busyness of life can lead us to put little emphasis on affirming and encouraging your husbands unless they are doing something for you.
Do you find yourself nicest to him when he is agreeing with you? Are your words, your facial expressions, your tones and inflections most amiable when the honey-do list is getting checked off? If this relational legalism characterizes your marriage, chances are your husband will see you more as a boss than a friend and partner.
This can work in reverse as well. Women can become works-based in their marriages when your focus to serve and care trumps loving and enjoying. (Guilty!) I cannot tell you how many times I have found myself busily cooking dinner when my husband comes home. It’s common for me to have my hands literally full of ingredients or my fingers gooed up with whatever it is I’m preparing for dinner when he walks in the door. All he wants is a tender gesture of affection, but instead he is greeted with a quick peck as I swoop by him. My justification; he knows I love him. I am, after all, busy serving him. I have work to do and it is my “God-given” work (Justification!) Unfortunately I see that at times this can simply be the spirit of Martha that misses the better part. Your husband doesn’t want a servant he wants a lover and a companion.
Grace is unnatural. While it is given to us freely, we actually have to work to give it to others. To break out of the mold of works-based relationships, we must be intentional in our actions. We need to give grace. One simple way to do this is to be more encouraging in your relationships. Look for things you can affirm. Let forgiveness be the anthem in your interaction with others. Your friends, your kids, and your husband are all going to make mistakes. One way you can avoid becoming a relational legalist is by allowing and covering mistakes.
Finally, focus on the grace given to you. We have been given what we don’t deserve and what we have deserved and earned has been forgiven in Christ. Jerry Bridges rightly describes grace as “God’s blessing through Christ to people who deserve a curse.” Let that gospel truth shape how you interact in your relationships.