As I've said before, the writings of Dallas Willard have been profoundly influential in my life. Of all of the many insights he has given me, the most powerful I believe is one that might at first seem obvious (as most profound insights - IMHO - usually do): We have been given a rightful sphere of influence - essentially limited to ourselves and our bodies - and it is over this sphere and this sphere only that we have any right to lay claims or expectations. We must treat all things outside this sphere as totally independent - and lay no claims or expectations on their behavior. They are free to act and we must be willing to allow them that freedom.
How often in the course of the average day do I, you, we engage in conversation, dialogue and relationship with others with ulterior motives? How often do we connect with others in order to gain or achieve or accomplish something (regardless of what that something is - how noble, right or moral it might be)?
I once argued with a good friend of mine about Jesus' character and nature in dealing with others. He characterized Jesus as a "great persuader" and - only the most positive sense - a "manipulator" of others for their own good. I strongly then and more strongly now deny this. Jesus refused to exercise any kind of manipulative technique - fear, guilt, bribery, etc. - over others. While he may have regretted the decisions of others (not because their decisions would result in Jesus' loss, but because he knew that these people were choosing less for themselves), he always respected these decisions. No pleading, no rhetoric, no apologetic technique. State the truth, present the choice, and give others the total freedom to decide.
In our own lives - especially in our partnerships (marriages, etc.) with others - in our families and work relationships, do we give people the right to govern their own "sphere of influence" or when we ask, are we actually demanding? Do we ask fully prepared to accept "no" as an answer - without resentment, guilt or bitterness?
I came across this quote over at Never Eat Alone:
"It doesn't matter whether you're selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or 'How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.' That doesn't make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are - just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it's not a conversation anymore; it's a pitch. And you're not a human being; you're a marketing rep."
Ask yourself this question in your dialogue with others - your spouse, your children, your church. Are you engaged to be engaged in relationship - or are you seeking your own ends? Are you extending grace and freedom or guilt and burden?