The Problem With A Hall-Monitor Kind of Love

Published March 21, 2018

When I finished law school, I bought a yellow pickup truck from my dad. It didn’t have many miles on it and was in pretty good condition. I gave him the cash, he tossed me the keys, and I climbed in. As I was pulling out of the driveway, he tapped on the window, and I rolled it down. He pointed at the hood and said, “You’ll want to change the oil.” I nodded dutifully and drove home.

This seemed to happen every time we got together. And each time my dad told me about the oil, I grumbled under my breath that I’d change the oil when I felt like it and not a minute before.

My dad didn’t mean harm. Quite the opposite. He loved me and knew that people who don’t change the oil in their trucks end up with dead trucks. Because he loved me and didn’t want my truck to die, he told me what I should want to do about it. He was trying to help me avoid something bad from happening, but it backfired in the way it landed with me.

The same thing happens to all of us.

Some of us have been told what we want our whole lives. We’ve been told we should want to go out for sports or not. We should want a college education or a graduate degree or a particular career. We should want to date this person and not the other one. None of it is mean-spirited, of course, and no one means any harm. It just doesn’t sit well with us.

A similar but different problem happens in our churches and schools and faith communities. We’re told by someone what God wants us to do and not do.

We’re told we shouldn’t drink or cuss or watch certain movies. We’re told we should want to have quiet times in the mornings and talk to strangers about a relationship with God. We’re told we should want to go on mission trips and witness to people, and sometimes we do it even if we don’t really know what the words meanbut often, just for a while.

After long enough, what looks like faith isn’t really faith anymore. It’s just compliance. The problem with mere compliance is it turns us into actors. Rather than making decisions ourselves, we read the lines off the script handed to us by someone we were told to respect, and we sacrifice our ability to decide for ourselves.

The fix for all this is as easy as the problem is hard. Instead of telling people what they want, we need to tell them who they are. This works every time. We’ll become in our lives whoever the people we love the most say we are.

God did this constantly in the Bible. He told Moses he was a leader, and Moses became one. He told Noah he was a sailor, and he became one. He told Sarah she was a mother, and she became one. He told Peter he was a rock, and he led the church. He told Jonah he’d be fish food, and well, he was.

If we want to love people the way God loved people, let God’s Spirit do the talking when it comes to telling people what they want. All the directions we’re giving to each other aren’t getting people to the feet of Jesus. More often, the unintended result is they lead these people back to us.

Here’s the problem: When we make ourselves the hall-monitor of other people’s behavior, we risk having approval become more important than Jesus’ love.

Another problem with trying to force compliance is that it only lasts for a while, usually only until the person gets a different set of directions from someone else. Faith lasts a lifetime and will carry us through the most difficult of times without a word spoken.

Telling people what they should want turns us into a bunch of sheriffs. People who are becoming love lose the badge and give away grace instead. Tell the people you meet who they’re becoming, and trust that God will help people find their way toward beautiful things in their lives without you.

The preceding excerpt was a sneak peek from Bob Goff’s new book, Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, releasing in April 2018.

About the Author(s)
Bob Goff

Bob Goff


Love Does

Bob Goff is the New York Times Best-Selling Author of Love Does, Honorary Consul to the Republic of Uganda, and an attorney who founded Love Does- a nonprofit human rights organization operating in Uganda, India, Nepal, Iraq and Somalia. He's a lover of balloons, cake pops and helping people pursue their big dreams. Bob's greatest ambitions in life are to love others, do stuff, and most importantly hold hands with his wife Sweet Maria Goff and spend time with their amazing kids. For more see and

Years at GLS 2013