There are more components of a roadmap for attaining peace in your life than the 3 parts that I conclude today (yesterday was part 2 and Sunday was part 1). Entire books have been written about peace. But if you will adopt these 3 strategies, you’ll have a solid start.
Focus (Straining Ahead) and Prayer are critical. Today is equally important, and it’s called Differentiation. I’ll define this powerful tool shortly. First, get your Bible and read Matthew 10:1-14 and answer the following questions:
- Jesus sends his disciples to go out without him. Why do you think he does that?
- Jesus gives them some specific instructions about where to go and where NOT to go. Why would Jesus want his disciples to avoid those places?
- He tells them not to take provisions with them. What does he want them to learn?
Verses 11-14 say this: “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”
- How would a disciple know if the home was ‘deserving’?
What Jesus teaches here is what we call Differentiation. In essence, differentiation says this: You get to live your life however you want to, and I get to live my life however I want to. I can’t make your choices for you. You can’t make my choices for me.
When a disciple goes to someone’s home, if they want his influence and his teaching and his blessing, the disciple was taught to help. But if that person didn’t want help or refused the influence, the disciple was taught to respect the fact that this person had the ability to choose for himself/herself. That’s the essence of differentiation.
At least once a week – usually more often – I have a conversation with someone who says something like, “We HAVE to make Bill stop drinking!” or “I HAVE to keep my son from moving in with that girl!” or “I HAVE to get her to see that her job is a dead-end!” or “I have to convince my friend to come to church!”
When you own the responsibility for living someone else’s life, you will always be anxious, and you will always struggle to have peace. I have enough trouble running my own life! I sure don’t have the energy to run another person’s life, who is not really going to let me make their decisions anyway!
Basically what Jesus tells the disciples is, “If they welcome you and want your help, give it to them. If not, move on.” Peace comes when I acknowledge and actually let go of the burden of living someone else’s life.
- Your adult (or almost adult) child makes poor choices
- Your parent won’t quit smoking
- Your college student son won’t go to class or study, and brings home barely passing grades
- Your spouse doesn’t eat a healthy diet and won’t exercise, in spite of a doctor’s warning
- Your friend is dating someone who is toxic
- Your sister can’t pay her bills but won’t get up and go to work
On and on we could go with one scenario after another. When someone lives in a way that a friend or relative deems unhealthy, you usually don’t have to look far to find a stressed out person who is trying to control that person’s behavior. It’s high anxiety and low results!
You want Peace? Differentiate! Say, “I care deeply about you. And I respect that you can choose to live your life however you want. I hope you respect that I get to do that, too.” And you let that person live their own life!
Let’s say your adult daughter wants to party all the time, but habitually tells you that she’s out of money and can’t pay her electric bill or car insurance. Say, “I care deeply about you. And I respect that you can choose to live your life however you want. I hope you respect that I get to do that, too. So I won’t be paying your bill for you.” You CAN say this without anger or anxiety. It’s REALLY freeing! If she starts yelling and calling you names, say, “I care deeply about you. And I respect that you can choose to live your life however you want. I hope you respect that I get to do that, too. So, I’m not going to participate in this conversation when you are not treating me with respect.” You can say those words with sincerity and without raising your voice.
The goal of differentiation is precisely to reduce anxiety in relationships. It is not a manipulation tool or a way to get what you want. It’s an honest and sincere way to let go of living someone else’s life for them.
When my daughter goofed off for 3 months during her first college semester, her grades reflected her inattention to school. I differentiated like this: “Mary Ashleigh, I love you and I care deeply about you. And I respect that you can choose to live your life however you want. I hope you respect that I get to do that, too. I will no longer front the money for you to go to school. You’ll have to find your own way to pay the tuition if you want to keep going to college. I will, however, reimburse you – on the back end – AFTER you bring me your grades. And I choose to only pay for A’s and B’s.” Was she upset? Yes. But I didn’t have to own her anxiety. She was a grown woman. Yes, she was young. But I respected that she was an adult. I couldn’t make her study. But I could choose how I would and would not spend my own money.
You might ask, “What if she had dropped out of college?!” The truth is, she could have. I made my opinion known. In fact, I told her that I thought it was so important, I’d pay for it (or most of it). But I couldn’t make her go. I wouldn’t love her less if she didn’t. She gets to make her own choice.
By the way, she took a semester off – was mad at me for most of it – and then asked to talk one day. “Dad,” she said, “I’ve got myself together now. I’d like to know if you’d give me another shot and pay the tuition for me, up front, one more time. I won’t let you down.” My reply: “Absolutely!” We made an agreement, and she never looked back. She graduated with honors a few years later. I’m convinced it would have been an different story if I hadn’t differentiated. She needed to make her own decision and, painful as it was, she needed her parents to show her the respect of being an adult.
Let Peace reside in you as you live your OWN life by differentiating and letting others live theirs. It really does make a huge difference!