Manipulation is the first sin in the Bible, when the snake misrepresented a few facts in enticing Eve to eat from the tree in the midst of the garden, “But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” (Genesis 3:4 ESV). Different Bible translations characterize the serpent as “crafty, clever, shrewd and cunning”, but the sin is manipulation.
I learned manipulation at an early age. After my brother died when I was 6, my Dad started yelling at my mother, threatening her life. I learned to distract Dad in his rage, asking him about a baseball game on TV, or demanding ice cream so that Mom would take me out of the house and break the inevitable chain of events.
Later, when I turned 18, I learned to manipulate in personal relationships with men with early indiscriminant intimacy. “But the serpent said to the woman, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Genesis 3: 5 ESV)
Manipulation and self-centeredness go hand in hand. When I want you to do something and I put some “spin” on our encounter, it is not because I love you, but because I love me. My needs and wants, just like the serpent, become the ultimate goal.
Breaking a cycle of manipulation is hard especially if it has worked repeatedly in the past. I create a false scenario, but you do what I want you to do, often against your better judgment. But as long as it works, I’ll do it over and over and over again.
To break that cycle, we have to follow God’s command to love one another. It must be as Jesus loves us, without trying to convince or connive. I can’t twist things to make you love me, to make you more organized, or even to love yourself. All my energies are wasted when I try to cajole through deceit.
My change started when I first examined the motives behind my actions. When I have a dinner party, is it because I want everyone to admire my cooking skills and my hospitality, or is it because I enjoy getting people together to meet each other? The first is manipulation, the second, genuine love. Do I send you a gift so that you will like me, or so that you will send me a gift in return? That is manipulation. But, if I send you a gift because we’ve both studied Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, and receiving a gift is how you feel appreciated, that is love.
The outcome of the action may be the same, but it is where our heart is that counts.
Ask yourself in your next personal interaction—where is my heart? Is my motivation to try to manipulate you into doing something for me, or am I truly motivated by unearned love?
I’m praying that your answer is: LOVE!