I imagine that every pastor (and most Christians) runs into this. Someone is dealing with a significant, longterm issue — depression, marital friction, scary children, what-have-you. The person sketches out his woes in moving, saddening detail, with great feeling and emotion. You listen with compassion.
Then you interact, sharing your concern and care, and communicating God's word. Let's say for the sake of a post's length (which, after all, is not a doctoral dissertation) that the issues involved are fairly clearcut, and directly addressed by Scripture. You bring the Scripture out, you discuss it, you discuss implementation and application.
And either at that moment, or at the next conversation, you hear it: "I tried that."
If you're geek enough, perhaps you silently think...
Of course the green Muppet has a point. I liked the story I heard of the psychologist who, confronted with the "I'll try" response, would throw a $20 bill on the floor and say "Try to pick that up." Point made.
Except that isn't my point.
Here's my point: in a situation such as I've described — and remember, this is my situation; I created it for illustration purposes — the "I've tried" response is very revealing, and not in a happy way.
Walking with God isn't something you try. Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might is not something you try. Loving your neighbor as yourself isn't something you try. The fear of Yahweh, living in the fear of Yahweh all day, living as in the presence of God, continuing in the word of Christ, abiding in Christ — these aren't things we try.
These are the calls of God on us. They reflect the way the world really is. To have a relationship with God is to go in those directions; not to do so is to live a doomed lie. All of these are facets of the life to which God calls us. They are descriptions of where we are going, where we must be going, if we are in Christ.
What I am afraid the "I tried that" response often reveals is a fundamental misunderstanding of all that. I am afraid it reveals that the person thinks of Christian living as a technique, a means to achieve an end. Particularly, in many of the specifics I have in mind, it is a means to achieve the end of making others treat me in a certain way.
So take the husband with the shrewish, emasculating wife. Say you counsel with him to love his wife as Christ loves the church, regardless of her behavior. Say you open up in Biblical depth and breadth all that means, and you relate it to the Gospel as you should.
Sometime later, he once again begins listing off to you a long and lurid narrative of his wife's crimes and misdemeanors. He goes on and on. The subtext seems to be: she's so awful, I'm so mistreated.
You stop him, and remind him of the call of Scripture on him. The conversation you already had.
"Oh, yeah. I tried that," he says.
Well then. There you go. You see? He thought you were giving him a way to make his wife behave, to make her treat him the way she should. He tried it. She didn't. What now?
That's the misunderstanding, and it's a deep one. As I read the Gospels, as I read 1 Peter, as I read the whole Bible, a Gospel-grounded, Christ-centered life is what we're called to live no matter what anyone else does.
Specifically, as a pastor, preaching the Word is definitional and non-negotiable for me, in fair weather and foul, open ears or itching ears, crowds flooding in or crowds bailing out. It isn't something I "try," and then if my church doesn't get big quickly, I reach around for something else. As a husband, loving my wife as Christ loves the church is definitional and non-negotiable. It isn't something I "try." Ditto my calling as a father, a church-member, a friend.
So, the next time you hear (or say) "I tried that," don't shrug it off. It may be a telling symptom of a major maladjustment in orientation.
We're not called to try. We're called to die, and to live again.