I was in session with some clients this past week who have taken steps to come in together to work on their communication in conflict, after 12 years of being married and a recent threat of divorce on the table (for the second time). “This is our last ditch effort” they said when they first came in. I’m always so proud of couples who still believe that change is possible in their relationship, even after a decade (or three) of marriage. We have been working together for several weeks now and they are doing incredible work and already beginning to make slight changes that will inevitably cascade into profound transformation.

This week, the wife started out the session with, “I just have to brag on him… he was a star this week! Since we talked last week about Love… well, God ‘keeping no record of wrongs’- I have been asking the Lord to help me to keep a record of things he [her husband] is doing right! I have started keeping a “record of right.” It’s amazing how much my perspective has shifted. I don’t think I can love my husband as well without God.”

A record of right… I love that language! I told her I was going to steal it from her 🙂

There are a lot of voices in our culture whispering messages about vengeance, and about our authority or prerogative to get even and to keep score when we have been wronged by others. But doing this is not good for us… it’s counterproductive and harmful for our mental health! An underlying message that accompanies this mindset is “I get to withhold my love from you if you hurt me” or “I won’t give you attention until you’ve proven yourself.”

In the spirit of Christmas, (and I know this may sound silly), I was at Costco a couple of days ago and even had a revelation about Santa. I heard Santa Clause is Coming to Town over the loudspeakers playing “He’s making a list and checking it twice, he’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…” and thought to myself, “Wait, Santa keeps a record of wrongs?” Santa should know better than to keep a naughty list! 

So, even in our beloved Christmas songs- there are these subtle, subliminal messages about how our performance is in direct proportion to our worth, or at least our ability to get good gifts. “If you do good enough, you will be worthy enough to receive my love.” This message is opposed to the message of the gospel. We cannot earn Love by doing ‘good’ things. The antithesis is also true, we cannot lose Love by doing ‘bad’ things. (I put good and bad in quotes because they can be so subjective, further illustrating the idea that our works fail to influence Love’s work in our life).

Scripture tells us that “love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV).

Nine out of ten weddings I have been to in the past couple of years has made mention of what is commonly known as the “love chapter” in thirteenth chapter of 1st Corinthians. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.”

God’s son, Jesus, is Love… personified!

So, as you read this passage from 1 Corinthians 13 in The Passion Translation (a translation that pulls from Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic language to embolden, energize and animate the text), replace the word “Love” with “Jesus” and consider how powerful this relationship is in the context of communicating with your spouse, kids, friends, or other loved ones.

“Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offense. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up. Love never stops loving.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 TPT)

Back to my session with a husband and wife overcoming the threat of divorce and learning to thrive rather than just survive. Instead of catching her husband in the wrong and reacting to his failures, shortcomings, and mistakes with her own defensiveness and anger- the wife focused on catching her husband doing something right/desirable/appropriate! To take it a step further, she verbalized the things that she was noticing to him. Because his love language (the way he prefers to receive love) is Words of Affirmation, her husband actually broke down crying in session as his wife recounted his “record of right.” After she had shared these things he said, “It means so much to me that you noticed all of my effort. When she treats me like this, I just want to spoil her and think of ways that I can bless and serve her!” To borrow language from Love and Respect ministries… her love motivates his respect, and his respect motivates her love. This is the energizing cycle that breaks negative patterns of communication.

It was powerful and encouraging to witness. These interactions amplify my hope as a counselor for the restoration of broken relationships.

Keeping a “record of right” doesn’t mean that we reinforce a works-based, conditional way of connecting with or loving others, it means that we motivate, fortify, and reinforce our sense of love and respect for the people in our lives by shifting our focus away from what is wrong and towards Love. We ask ourselves, “What is Love up to in this situation?”

CHALLENGE: Consider a person in your life this week (spouse, child, co-worker, employee) who you’d like to “catch doing something right/desirable/appropriate” (even if it seems small or insignificant and offer them some form of praise (verbal, a gift, a hug) and notice how your perspective of them and interactions with them shift!