This all-too-common process was perfectly illustrated in a recent edition of Baby Blues, one of my favorite cartoon strips.

Double Message

Wanda has clearly mastered the art of “control without coercion.” By saying “It’s fine,” she gives the appearance of being reasonable. But she long ago loaded those words with another meaning: “Go if you want to, but later on you’ll pay the price of a cold and irritable wife.”

As the last frame shows, both her husband and his friend know exactly what her words really mean … and they give up their plans to avoid a conflict.

I’m embarrassed to think of how many times I’ve used these kinds of double-messages to manipulate people in my life, especially my wife.

I’m good at saying words that sound right on the surface, but it’s all too easy to add a subtle tone of voice or facial expression that sends a contradictory message … one designed to bend others to my will without overtly exposing my selfishness.

How about you? Is this something you do as well? If you don’t think so, ask the people closest to you for their honest opinion.

If this is a habit in your life, there are three things you can do to overcome it.

First, confess it to God, as well as the people you’ve manipulated, and ask those closest to you to bring it to your attention whenever you do this again.

Second, pray that God would press ahead with his promise to conform you to the likeness of Christ by giving you an active hatred for this sin and by replacing your desire to control others with a genuine joy for serving and encouraging them (Rom. 8:29; 2Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:22-24).

Third, develop the habit of intentionally using all of the means of communication God has built into you (words, tone of voice, facial expressions and body language) to send honest and congruent messages to those around you, especially when they might have some doubts as to your real intentions.

Had Wanda done this when her husband wanted to play ball with his friends, she would have first needed to go through a quick internal examination and adjustment of her own heart:

“I’m feeling disappointed and irritated. Why? I was really hoping Darryl would spend the morning shopping with me. But that’s selfish; it’s all about me. He’s been working really hard lately, and I know he doesn’t enjoy shopping. It would be good for him to get some exercise and have fun with his friends. Since I’ve punished him in the past for not following my plans, I need to make an extra effort to assure him that I really want him to go with Mike.”

Then she would have turned to her husband with a genuine smile, and with a warm and encouraging tone of voice said,

“I always enjoy it when you go shopping with me, but today I think it would be great if you had some time with your buddies. You’ve been working really hard lately, and I’d love to know you’re doing something you enjoy. I’ll have some ice packs and a cold drink waiting for you when you get home and look forward to hearing about all you great shots!”

An affectionate kiss would be a nice reinforcement.

These simple applications of the READ and SERVE principles would have blessed her husband, added a big deposit to their “relational capital account,” and set a positive example for their daughter, who (as you can see in each frame of the cartoon) is carefully listening to … and learning from … every word her parents speak.

May God give both me and you grace to renounce manipulative double-messages and use our words only to bless the people around us–even if it means giving them freedom to shoot hoops instead of going shopping … or vice versa!