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Being stubborn like a donkey only makes you an ass.

Put two stubborn and controlling people in a room, and when they come out, they’ll tell the world how the other guy is the problem.

How do you handle stubborn people? I don't know.

I’m not exactly sure what stubbornness is. I can sure identify it in others, though not always so well in myself.

Is it noble? It can be.

Is it sinful? It can be.

Is it helpful? It can be.

Is it hurtful? It can be.

The same stubborn streak that helps you survive adversity and achieve something great can also destroy your most important relationships because you will not submit to another.

You will not trust them.

You will not let them have a win.

You will not give up control.

You cannot allow room for another point of view.

You will have it your way or the highway.

Most of the habitually stubborn people I’ve met are not people I’m habitually around for long.

For a stubborn and controlling person, there is one right way to do things. Two, if they decide to change their mind. Live with that for a few decades, and you’ll understand the explosion of True Crime interest.

I suppose I could say that stubbornness based in a mindset that refuses to quit is different than stubbornness based in pride and control, but I really don’t know. Mainly, as I told a friend recently when we met for coffee where I discussed several situations of this nature, I’m growing weary of stubborn and controlling people. I am tired of being around them, working with them, standing next to them in line—everything.

“I do not want to be known as a stubborn control freak,” I told my friend. “We all have those moments in life, but I don’t want it to be the defining quality when people think of me.”

Stubborn people force those around them to squish into pliability, a kind of permanent brokenness, or put a stopper in a bottle and then shake it up and wonder why the explosion down the road.

Stubborn people generate raging impostor syndrome where you question your own skills, abilities, and thoughts. You put your best skill and thoughts to work, carefully coming to a conclusion, and a stubborn person walks in and on a whim negates it based on personal preference. They are either fearful or lack the ability to see any other option outside of what they know. Unless you’re in your 20s or 30s and still willing to fight the world to win, the general response to all of it is to leave a stubborn and controlling person as the dictator of their own little realm and find somewhere else to go.

There’s a real result to habitual stubbornness and control.

Such people suck the joy out of any effort, for one thing. They remove the delightful struggle and victory that comes when you collaborate and work with people in a complicated back-and-forth dance. There are no intricate relational connections built, no eye-opening alternative idea that hadn’t been considered. Everything becomes an executive decision or a sneaky move, and the rest of the group is left with distrust which quickly turns to apathy.

Why care about a relationship, a project, a marriage—anything—if one person is going to wrap it around themselves like a comfortable robe without asking if you wanted to be worn?

Stubborn people burn up trust, interest, and enthusiasm from people around them. That’s an emotional bank account that won’t last forever. Quiet quitting of volunteers, spouses, friends, and employees is the eventual outcome.

How does stubbornness develop? How does it continue?

I suppose some people naturally learn to be controlling if they’ve been in enough situations where no one was in control. Maybe they’ve had to deal with too many stubborn and controlling people in the past and developing a thick skin is the only way they avoid being a doormat. Perhaps they’ve had their fill of input, collaboration, or democracy because it feels like red tape or that they’re surrounded by idiots, and they can’t move the needle fast enough. Perhaps their life is out of control in some other area and it feels good to exert control over people elsewhere.

I understand some of that, which is why there are moments where stubbornness may be a admirable quality. But that is often not the case, especially when you add a controlling nature to the mix.

Last year, while attempting to read the Bible through, a strange theme kept popping up that made me uncomfortable: the value God places on obedience.

A stubborn and controlling person likes this topic, confusing godly obedience with complete and unchanging submission to the person instead of God. But what does God say?

God prefers that we obey him rather than sacrifice greatly.1 If we love God, we show it by keeping his commands.2 Consider that God prefers mercy to sacrifices, too.3

If we loved God, we wouldn’t fixate on good works and sacrifice and dramatic words and promises and all the glorious things we try to offer up to him. We wouldn’t share endless religious talky talk on social media to establish ourselves as someone to be intellectually reckoned with. We would control ourselves in the practice of obedience, whether any one sees or understands, because of love for God.4

I am speaking to the stubborn and controlling person here. You must obey God, too, and that will include submitting to others in humility. Positional or name-plate authority only has so much juice. True authority must be earned through submission.

Too many want to be spunky or feisty in order to accomplish things and be in control and captivate a room no matter the collateral damage to others. They joke that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, not considering how they’d absolutely explode if others did to them the very same thing.

The closest we get to being honest about this state of affairs is calling it strong-willed, which, since that is not God-willed, is very weak.

Our culture adores the fierce, the fighter, the rebel, the untamed, the free, the unbroken, the independent. There are times for it on a national scale, perhaps. But in the individual heart and home, it is a rot that will spread into every relationship and activity it touches, outward and onward.

If you love Jesus, you will obey him.

You will not manipulate. You will not always have to win. You will not expect to be served. You will not make excuses for defending pride. You will not go first. You will not have your way. You will not cover your stubbornness and controlling nature in spiritual disguises to make it seem holy.

Two people can’t have their own reins and try to drive the same stagecoach. It’s bad for the horses, it’s a rough ride, and ultimately it’s going to crash. If we are servants, we serve each other. It’s circular.

The world can’t be full of executives making executive decisions. And for the stubborn person doing so, let me gently tell you that your ideas and understanding on a given situation aren’t as spectacular and awe-inspiring as you think they are.


3 Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13


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