I Can’t Change You, You Can’t Change Me, Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off

I used to think I could change people.

I mean, not really, but…yeah, kinda.

See, I knew Ephesians 4:15, which says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”

That was my magic spell. My divine wizardry. My spiritual formula for change. I see someone sinning, I speak the truth in love, and presto change-o, sis boom bah, they stop sinning! It was divine alchemy, with sin being transmogrified into righteousness.

If the person didn’t change, I assumed it was due to a miscalculation in my Truth/Love ratio. I needed to add another dash of truth, or a quick sprinkle of love. But make no mistake: once I got my Truth/Love concoction correct, they would change. They had to. That’s how the formula worked.

Of course, you can imagine how this worked out for me. I was endlessly frustrated by the lack of change in people. What was the problem? I had done the calculations. I was mixing truth and love. Everything was in place. So why weren’t they changing?

I would try different combinations. More truth spoken louder. More love and affection. Maybe a little passive/aggressiveness to spice things up. Still no measurable results.

Yes, I saw people changing, but they didn’t seem to be changing in conjunction with my magical change formula.

Thankfully, as time has passed, I’ve come to realize that I can’t change anyone. Ever. At all.

This should have been abundantly clear to me years ago. Of course, I’ve always been a bit on the dense side.

I mean, I can’t even change myself. The only time true, lasting change happens in me is when God himself creates that change.

You might think that this realization would produce a deep despair in me, but it hasn’t. In fact, it’s had the opposite effect. It’s an amazingly freeing thing to realize that I can’t change people.

I’m finally able to trust God to do all the changing, both in others and in myself. I can’t change people, and I’m not supposed to change people. That job belongs only to God.

This truth is especially relevant in the way I parent my three little girls, who I’m correcting on a regular basis.

Yes, God will use my truth spoken in love, but only when He’s ready. When the Holy Spirit decides the time is right, he will gently convict my girls of their sin and lead them into righteousness. He doesn’t need my help doing that. He doesn’t need my eloquently spoken words. He doesn’t need my magical change formula.

He can change them quite effectively himself, thank you very much.

I’m also able to stop trying to be the sin police. The Holy Spirit is responsible for convicting of sin and righteousness, not me. I don’t need to address every sin I see in my girls. I don’t need to be the crouching tiger, ready to pounce on any hidden dragon of sin I see (trying to work in multiple movie references here). The Holy Spirit doesn’t need me to operate a dictatorship, in which I snuff out the least signs of resistance.

Obviously I’m not advocating for some sort of goofy “unparenting” in which we let our kids do whatever they want. That’s insanity. God uses the faithful teaching of parents, and we should speak the truth in love when we have the opportunity.

But I think we can freak out a little bit less. God really doesn’t need our help. He can do the changing in our kids, in us, and in any person, for that matter.

My hope is not in my ability to drop Truth/Love bombs. My hope is in the power of God, which is changing me and which is changing others.

Stephen Altrogge

I'm a husband, dad, writer. I drink too much coffee and know too much about Star Wars. I created The Blazing Center. I've also written some books which people seem to like. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook