After an argument with my husband I always want peace—but I want him to go first.
One time I went first. I believed I was in the right and he in the wrong; nevertheless I approached and spoke peace, and it took a lot to do it. My mild-mannered husband responded sharply that particular time, so I let him have it: opened the gunnysack and dumped everything out, reaching back to decades before I knew him.
This raises an obvious question about the policy of “going first”: What do you do if you obey the Lord and go first, and it doesn’t work—the other person doesn’t reciprocate kindly in turn? The answer, be it ever so unpalatable, remains the same. You go first again. And then again. And then again.
This is because, you see, going first is a concept, not an ordinal number. It doesn’t really mean a literal once-and-done operation performed at the beginning of an encounter, after which you may return to your usual sloppy modus operandi.
My husband tells me I have grown since we met in 2006. I replied that I had asked the Lord to transform me by the renewing of my mind, and in the course of time the Lord gave this simple instruction: “Go first.”
I knew it was God because I knew exactly what He meant. If love were vitamins, I had been keeping my husband at the minimum daily allowance levels—always calibrating, always careful not to exceed him in demonstrations of affection. It is a bankrupt strategy, and the Spirit said it had to go.
I wanted to say, “I can’t do it, Lord,” but I knew full well it had come to this. “Go first” seemed like an impossibility, but at the same time it seemed like my deliverance. It was the next step in sanctification. If I tried any longer to go around it I would never grow, and I would always end up bumping into that wall anyway. And since nothing can be more miserable than bumping into that wall for the rest of my life, I was ready to bear down and run straight through it.
“Go first,” as a portable mantra, has the advantage of being pithy. It comes to mind when hours have gone by that my husband hasn’t stroked my insatiable appetite for reassurance, and suggests a preemptive “I love you” on my part. It nudges me to initiate intimacy when the flesh is saying “over my dead body.”
I started seeing all the places where I wasn’t “going first.” When the kids haven’t phoned for a while and I felt bad, I heard in my spirit: “Go first.” When that old, Faustian counselor of relationships in my head said, “Jump before you’re pushed,” “Go first” counseled to renounce self-protection. When a friend didn’t wave in church, “Go first” said not to assume she dislikes me, and to go up and say hello.
At a certain point of habituation, “Go first” kicks into a different dimension and becomes a whole-life orientation. As the expulsive power of a divine command leaves less and less room for the old squatters of fear and self-concern, I better understand Jesus’ saying that the best way to evict demons from a domicile is to displace them with better occupants. You can’t worry about your self-respect when all the space in your head is filled with your brother.
Transformation by the renewing of your mind does not occur through the nine or 10 things you are doing well because they come naturally to you and are the kinds of things you would probably do anyway. (I know a woman who loves housecleaning, for example.) Transformation happens at the place of your greatest weakness, in the tug-of-war of Spirit and flesh (Galatians 5:17) when you decide you are willing to die.
When we were kids, my cousin Linda had the best dieting tip ever: You have to like the feeling of your tummy growling. To reach out in love when the devil says it isn’t safe—that’s transformation into Christ’s image by one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). We can be different next year. So different that even our spouses will notice.