No one asked me this question but I’ll answer it anyway

proverbs 17.9

Whenever I do an interview on the radio with someone sharing advice, I try to ask them one bottom-line question as a simple take-away for people.

For example, the other day I asked John Fuller from Focus on the Family, “What is one thing that would make the biggest or quickest difference in parenting – one attitude or thing parents could do?”

He didn’t pause a second: “Give up control.” He said our kids have a thing called free will which will destroy all your expectations of control. Amen to that, right? What a great answer that helps with more than just parenting; it helps with your expectations for all your family relationships.

Since I’m always the one asking the questions of others, I thought I’d ask myself a question for a change — that bottom-line question with the simple take-away. So here’s the question:

What one thing is the biggest obstacle to family harmony?

The one single change that could have the biggest effect on a family’s ability to get along?

My answer: “Bitterness. Which comes from keeping score.”

When we see the news story about the family member who attacked another family member over a TV show or macaroni and cheese, we all know it’s not about the show or the mac cheese. It’s about everything that’s happened before that. It all adds up to a fight over mac cheese.

It adds up because we keep score. And we wouldn’t keep score if we didn’t think we were winning. If I think I’m more offensive than you, that you’re more right than me, I’m not going to keep score. I only track offenses against me.

Whoever covers over an offense seeks love – Proverbs 17.9

If I think you owe me more than I owe you, I feel resentment towards you. I don’t want to call it a grudge, but that’s what it is. I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder. But I handle it like a Christian, which means be nice on the outside, and feel like I’m sacrificing because I don’t overtly pay you back what I think you deserve.

I pay you back COvertly. My heart is cool towards you. I suspect a negative motive in most everything you do and say. I don’t trust you. I never ask you a personal or caring question. And here’s the worst part that I will NEVER admit – being so offended and bugged by you feels a little sweet, in a strange perverted way. It’s kind of nice to be owed.

The Big Blind Spot

I can’t possibly comprehend that you feel the same towards me. The bitterness, the chip on your shoulder, the cool heart, the martyrship of smiling on the outside, the sweetness of being owed big time – goes both ways?

That is outrageous and maddening to me. That makes it even more offensive. How dare you think it’s me! Sure I hold some blame, but nothing like you.

No way. Ridiculous.

And you think the same thing.

And thus you have tormented marriages, families, and extended family relationships.

In humility count others more significant than yourselves – Philippians 2.3

Families are the easiest place for this to happen. The opportunities to be offended and misunderstood are endless. The impact of endless offenses and misunderstandings leads to tension and bitterness. Marriages, parenting, in-laws, and grandparents end up living in this tension and bitterness.

If what I’ve described here is you, there’s hope. The fact that families are the easiest place for dysfunction to happen means families are also the easiest place for grace and love to happen – those opportunities are also daily and endless.

Here’s what ‘grace wins’ families do

Grace wins families are families characterized more by harmony and unity than by bitterness and anger. Bitterness and anger happen – but they don’t dominate.

Grace wins families begin with grace-filled individuals. Or maybe just one individual.

One individual – you – who realizes you might be wrong. You don’t insist on fairness, even on the inside in attitude. You refuse to keep score. You notice your own offenses more than others. You know by experience the negative consequences of a quick, loud response, and so you practice patient, quiet responses.

Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience – Colossians 3.12

You’d rather give in when you’re right than win when you’re wrong.

You’d rather trust a person’s motives when you shouldn’t, than not trust their motives when you should.

You’re confident that giving grace is contagious in a family, and your confidence and grace spreads.

You trust that this one thing – in humility refusing to keep score – kills the seed of bitterness and creates a growing garden of grace in your family.

And you’re grateful that today is another day to nurture that garden.

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it – Mark Twain

Who’s the non-scorekeeper in your family?

About the Author


Gary Morland helps you feel better about your most challenging family relationships, and helps you actually improve those relationships - all by adopting simple attitudes, perspectives, expectations, and actions (the same ones that changed him and his family).


  1. lyricpdx

    “…..and so you practice patient, quiet responses.” I cannot count the number of times I have not done this, only to witness the destruction it has caused. I am finally learning that to be helpful, kind, and build someone up, I have to SLOW DOWN. If I slow down, ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and words, He gives them to me. The difference is simply staggering. Key word is “practice.” And you don’t lose anything by giving grace: it is all gain, for the other person, and for you.


    I often remind myself as I open-handed pray for my children…my children are not my “puppets” they belong to God.

  3. m

    This was awesome, G! My hubby & I were lol with this one, this morning over our tea! Our son wins, hands down, as nothing bothers that guy! He’s so easy going & forgiving! Grace wins in this home… Love your posts/wisdom! Blessings & <3 M

  4. Pam Cason

    Another thought-provoking post, Gary! Oh if “giving up control” was as easy as saying it. That’s just it, I want to “give up control” but I struggle to execute it. It really does boil down to trust. Do I trust HIM to do the work inside my children’s hearts and others’ hearts instead of trying to do the work myself under the guise of control? I am a work in progress, Gary. So thankful HE doesn’t give up on me!

  5. makeroomfor

    I feel like a blessing was just spoken over our extended families, both mine and my husband’s. Thank you.

  6. Cara

    I needed this today, thank you so much. I am always amazed how God seeks us out, reels us in, and gives us point blank messages just when we need them. You are such a blessing!

  7. Letting go of control is hard to do, but having two little boys who have their own wills and ways of doing things teaches me that every day. I often feel that I’m the one who is “raising” the family (thus, try to control) and tend to forget that together, we’re growing as a family. Having my own little family has helped me realize what life is about, and I am grateful for the gift.

    • awesome yuko. And I like the idea of raising vs. growing. Thank you


  1. […] that won’t happen without your contribution. Contributions like patience and not giving up. Refusing to keep score. Putting high expectations on yourself, not […]

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