“Stop glaring at me like that!”
“That sweater looks funny on you.”
“Why do you always take so long to get ready in the morning?”
Does your home ever echo with pointed comments like these? A brother laughs at something his sister is wearing, so she snaps back with even more bite in her words. A husband grows impatient with his wife, and his words are soaked in irritability. We are skilled at finding just the right words to irritate, annoy, bother, criticize, those closest to us. Pretty soon, your home is not a safe haven for your family, but instead a place where people feel guarded and defensive. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has only made this problem worse, as we are spending more time in close quarters with our loved ones.
Recently, my wife and I noticed this pattern beginning to creep into our own family, and as parents, our instinctive reaction when we saw this sort of behavior was to bite back. We’d hear one of our kids criticize another, and we’d snap at them (usually in a loud voice!) to “Cut it out!”. They’d respond (usually in a still-louder voice) that they hadn’t done anything and the other person had started it. And so it would go. Needless to say, our approach wasn’t working. We needed something new. That’s when I remembered an idea about encouragement in marriage that I’d learned years ago, a lesson we decided to adapt for our family.
We all have an emotional “bank account.” This is our capacity to feel emotionally safe and secure, to feel deeply with and for others. Our accounts get filled when we are assured that we are known, and loved, well-cared for, respected, and emotionally secure in our relationships with others. And when our accounts are full, we are well-equipped to handle daily frustrations, we will feel less anxious about the future, and we will have the capacity to listen and support others around us. But if our tanks are empty, we run out of resources to spend on others. We find ourselves short-tempered, critical, irritable, and hard to be around. This, by the way, is one of the reasons Covid has had such a negative effect on many people. These long, weary months have drained many of our bank accounts, leaving us with little emotional energy to care for others or to put up with daily annoyances that would otherwise be fairly minor. These long months have overdrawn many of our bank accounts!
Our interactions with others can also deposit or withdraw from these bank accounts. Proverbs 11:11 reminds us that “By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.” The encouraging words of an upright person have the power to lift up an entire city while the words of a malicious person can destroy it! Or, to put it differently, the words of an encourager can deposit vast sums of blessing into the emotional “bank accounts” of other people while a careless person can draw that same account deep into the red.
Recall the last time that someone paid you a sincere compliment. Maybe your wife praised you in front of your group of friends, or maybe your brother told you how much he appreciated the help you gave him with your homework. No doubt that gave you a boost! That encouragement was a deposit into your bank account that in turn helped you to encourage someone else, perhaps, or it helped you to get through what otherwise might have been a difficult day. At the same time, a person’s biting criticism or their laughter behind your back made you feel crummy about yourself, and you may have in turn lashed out at someone else.
While we want to be careful not to reduce every relational interaction into a transaction, my wife and I challenged ourselves, and encouraged our kids to take this metaphor to heart. What would our “bank balance” be at, at the end of a day? Were we placing deposits into the accounts of those around us or were we withdrawing from them?
It’s important to understand that at times it will be necessary to make “withdrawals.” As parents, we sometimes have to correct our children. Siblings may need to address problems that have cropped up between them. Friends will work through a disagreement. These withdrawals are normal and healthy parts of a relationship (like paying the bills each month!), even if they take something out of us emotionally. This is all the more reason why it’s important to be making frequent emotional deposits! Encouraging, complimenting, and expressing thanks and appreciation to others are all ways to actively keep a positive balance.
However, what happens if our tank is not adequately filled? What happens when those around us are more critical than they are encouraging? As Christians, the gospel tells us that we already have the greatest treasure trove that allows us to overflow with love for others, no matter how we are being treated. “We love because he first loved us,” John reminds us. God’s love for us is an infinite store of grace! The God of the universe loves us enough to die for us, so that he might adopt us as his own children. While encouragement and support from others can add to our tanks, the vast wealth of God’s love for us is the storehouse that will allow us to overflow to others!
So, how full is your “bank account”? More importantly, who in your life would be blessed by you making a “deposit” today? Let the abundance of God’s love for you in Christ lead you to fill others with the love you have experienced from God!
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra