I once counseled a woman who was having great difficulties in her marriage. Her husband was cold and distant, and she was at her wit’s end as to what to do. So we began to meet to talk about her life from God’s perspective.

As I asked her questions and heard her complaints, I started to see a pattern. Her husband’s biggest complaint was her continual yelling at her kids, which ruined the peaceful nature of his home. Every morning she screamed at the kids as she rushed to get them ready for school, and every night she screamed at them to clean up and get ready for bed, and her husband was turned off by all her yelling.

I told her the first thing she had to do was to quit yelling, but that didn’t help; she continued to yell for yet another week. As we met again, I started to dig deeper, and as she told me that her kids were always disobedient and messy, I started to see the problem.

“I know what it is,” I told her one day. “What?” she asked eagerly. “You don’t love your kids. You love yourself.” “That’s not true!” she adamantly responded.

She was right by the world’s definition of love, but I wanted her to see that although she might feel love for them, she wasn’t expressing love for them, and therefore it wasn’t love at all. Since all her actions were based on what she was feeling and wanting, her actual condition was one of selfishness.

Understanding and applying God’s love

I went on to read her 1 Corinthians 13 and allowed her to apply it to her short-tempered, frustrated, record-keeping, selfish relationship with her kids.

“Does that sound like love to you?” I asked her. She was mortified. She had never looked at the actions of love as God defines it in direct relationship to her own life. She had never taken a real and self-assessing look at love from the outside in, and that was why there was so much strife, fighting, and bitterness in her household.

After taking a sober look at God’s definition of love, she was able to apply it to her life and to change the culture of her home. Within a week, everything was different. The shouting stopped, the kids started to obey, and incredibly her husband started to soften toward her. This wasn’t because of the effort she exerted but because of her new awareness of the life of Christ in her and His selfless love for her.

For weeks, months even, she had tried, through her own effort, to gain control of her emotions, to care for her kids without yelling, and to love her husband the way he wanted to be loved. She had known what she was doing was wrong, but she was powerless to stop. Why? Because she didn’t have the Spirit in her? No, I believe she was filled with the Holy Spirit, but she was not mindful of that Spirit within her.

But once she became utterly mindful of the life of Christ within her, of His Word and His will, she was able to change what was essentially self-obsession to true love. Instead of reading 1 Corinthians 13 as something to get, she now read it as a command to live out, one that the Spirit had equipped her to do. It has been my experience in talking with women that the quickest way to make a change in their lives is to become aware of the nature of the Spirit and His thoughts on the life of faith.

The fruit of the Spirit

Holy Spirit love doesn’t come naturally. The fruit of the flesh might look a good deal like the fruit of the Spirit—it might feel like it and sound like it—but the fruit of the flesh always destroys and disappoints. The fruitful wife accepts whatever worldly grief love may bring, resisting the temptation to destroy love through conditional and man-made law, and gives even though she may get nothing in return. The kind of love that the Holy Spirit provides to one who depends on Him is the same kind of love that God the Father showed to each of us by giving up His only Son for our salvation. Although none of us deserved it, we have all been provided with it in deeper measure than we could ever know.

If you haven’t loved in Spirit and truth but in flesh and doubt, it isn’t too late to change. In relationship to your husband the road to recovery may be long, but it can be taken one step at a time, day by day, acknowledging the love that God teaches you through His Spirit. Allow yourself to be redeemed and remade into His likeness. It is never too late to grow the fruit of the Spirit in your life. There is no mistake too big that disqualifies you from love. Every one of us has lived and loved selfishly, but we have no reason to expect things to stay the same.

The fruit of the Spirit is available to all who not only love God but also lean on Him for His power and believe that His Word is true. God is love, and He could not love you more. So draw on that everlasting love as you love others, not for how it makes you feel but for His glory and a demonstration of His grace. Trust in the Author of your love to teach and help you to love as only He can love.

Adapted from The Fruitful Wife. Copyright © 2012 by Hayley DiMarco. Used with permission of Crossway.