My wife and I were at odds. We were in the midst of the worst vacation ever. Curiously, the previous worst vacation ever was at the exact same location, so I suggested that the place was cursed and we should leave as soon as possible. We stayed and gradually worked through the conflict, but its intensity left me wanting to hear just a bit more from the Lord. I was hoping that the week would remain the worst vacation ever and never be supplanted by another.

The “more from the Lord” came about a month later. I have been divesting myself of books over the past two years, aiming to get rid of about one a day. Since some of them are old friends, I usually take a final peek. In one book, I noticed the phrase “desire for approval” in men. I don’t even know if the book suggested that this was dangerous or merely normal. But the phrase changed me in a moment—and made immediate sense of what had been happening inside of me during that conflict from a month ago. The desire for approval, which can also go by the desire for respect, is certainly natural to us. We all want it. But this time, the phrase revealed a shadowland in which my desires had imperceptibly morphed into desires that have nothing of heaven in them at all. My desire became need, and need became demand. I should have seen it when my hurt from sensing my wife’s disapproval merged with frustration. Frustration, of course, tends to be blind to what we have brought to the conflict. I had been blind.

Two features of this story catch my attention. One is that our spiritual growth is a curious ride. Sometimes we dig, meditate, intensify our spiritual disciplines, get help from others, and the Spirit uses these to change us. Sometimes a phrase or a comment arrests us, and we are changed. The other thing that stands out is that change often comes when the Spirit renews old teachings.

The old teaching is clear: my desire to receive something from my wife must never exceed my desire to love and listen to her. It’s that listening part that has especially been freshened up in my life. If my wife disapproves of something I have done, I want to hear her. What is it that really bothers her? Listening can then take us to a few different places, some harder, some easier. But with such a good start to a conversation, it typically ends well. Over the last few months, this has been tested in small ways, and the gains have held. The change was real, but I know that life can gradually distract me and I can forget what the Lord taught me, like so many of the Old Testament saints. Thankfully, God sees my need, and the Spirit will freshen up simple truths once again.

Yesterday, we scheduled our vacation for next summer. We’ll be returning to the same location.