Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
I am a wordy person.
Verbose. (That sounds better)
Motor Mouth, talk-your-ears-off and drama queen are phrases I might have heard once or twice growing up. Maybe.
Although I like to think I’ve grown out of it somewhat, most likely I am just too tired with three young children to have quite as much to say.
Sometimes the things I do say are harsh.
Sometimes the words I hear are harsh.
Are you familiar with that feeling of freedom you get when a jacket or sweater becomes oppressive and you finally take it off? I feel a weight this morning that reminds me of the no-longer-needed sweater. I sense the heaviness and bulk of too many harsh words, given and received.
I want to shrug it off. Toss it to the side of this life I’m living and get on with it.
So many awesome blogs and books and devotional posts out there are trying to keep it real. I’m all about real. So much that sometimes I wonder if “real” is sometimes lost in the projection of real. If my sharing doesn’t sometimes press hard against the seams of discretion, then I might just be too comfortable in this easy-breezy world of “real.”
My Real is in the sigh that accompanies the residue of anger. Anger that gets stirred up in my soul by harsh words that I speak and hear.
The verse above has been swirling around my heart since Sunday. Not for a blog post, but for me. See, sometimes our days play out completely off-script…not the way we envisioned or planned and we get lost in the disappointment and let-down. I’m talking about every day life. Like this:
Friday my husband called me at Rivers’ ball practice and said he wanted to grill a steak for me and had gotten us a movie. We were going to have in-house date night (after the girls were in bed!). This is not a regular happening so don’t start envisioning us teaching marriage retreats. Smile. But once in a while we make it happen and it was very kind and thoughtful. It was a great meal, a great movie and a great night.
Until I checked my smartphone for replies to a text I sent to multiple people. The short of the story is that I shouldn’t have included mere acquaintances with my tight people. Because the tight people in my life enjoy a good smartphone banter now and then. But if you don’t know the people bantering, it apparently is very annoying. And furthermore, if you are so inclined, you might send a very direct message out to the whole group letting them know they need to start a new thread. Whether or not you know them might not matter. Whether or not it will embarrass the original sender might not matter. (Needless-to-say, lesson learned, people. Lesson learned!)
As I sat on the sofa with my steak-grilling, ice-cream buying husband, I quickly lost focus of the warm and fuzzy night we were having together. Lost sight of the next level. Smile…
My anger was stirred by the harsh words in this message by someone I don’t know very well to people I do. My fingers flew as I typed a “polite” reply that would still sting with rebuke. As I just sat there staring at my little screen, Shannon said the following (and seriously some of the best advice he’s ever given me):
If you have to think about it, you shouldn’t send it. Don’t you see what is happening? Don’t you see the test here? You just had a great week with your writing and your blog post on (in)courage and now your credibility is being tested. If you have to think about it, you shouldn’t send it.
His wise words, Shannon’s gentle response, defused my anger. It took a few minutes but his understanding and gentle response was amazing and perfect for the moment.
Now that would be a great ending to this post, wouldn’t it? I told on myself a little (being “real”) and ended with a nice bow to wrap it up. My life lesson with God’s Word sprinkled in and Bam! You get a spiritual snack!
But I don’t seem to live a life of snacks. It feels more like a buffet that I cannot stay away from. Because although the prickly words of the acquaintance texter did not get a response message, I let the atmosphere in my home change.
How many of you, especially married folks, relate to a sudden shift in the atmosphere? And once it shifts it can be a devil trying to recalibrate. Wait, speaking of. Check this out, I read it yesterday:
Luke 4:13 (the message)
That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.
After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, the Spirit led Him into the wilderness where He fasted forty days. At the end of the forty days, Jesus was super-hungry. Satan tempted Jesus three different times and in three different ways but Jesus resisted, quoting God’s Word and basically telling him to get lost. So, the verse above says His testing was complete. Jesus passed.
But that did not mean the enemy was finished. It just meant he would wait for another opportunity.
So often we see God’s power at work in our lives and feel like, Oh, now I can exhale and zone out for a little while. No, the Devil is waiting for another opportunity. And I believe, so believe, he lies in wait for the words we speak. For the stressful and tiring situation that is going to wear us down until we let our tongue loose. For the coming-down moment after a spiritual “high” when heart-guarding is temporarily forgotten and we are unpleasantly surprised by our own reactions.
He lies in wait…like a crouching tiger (but not a hidden dragon)…waiting to pounce on words we speak in anger, frustration or simply exhaustion. The Message says it this way:
…a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.
Sharp words and harsh responses absolutely stir up anger within us. They are indeed the kindling for a temper-fire.
They burn our hearts…suffocate our marriages…singe our children..and leave friendships a pile of debris and stinky ash.
So, look. Our weekend wasn’t nearly as fabulous as it could have been. Temper-fires tend to smolder. It takes sopping-wet humility to really put them out. And we are still working on sopping-wet humility. I think we might have grown to very moist, but not sopping-wet.
That takes a lifetime. But since we are in it for life, we’ll get there, right?
Life is going to happen. We are going to collide with unexpected expenses. Feel drained and tired from a hard day at work. Battle insecurities that sneak into our thoughts every chance they get. We are human and life is imperfect. But what if we take one step forward in recognizing the “real” enemy?
It’s not our spouse. Not our ex-spouse. Not mere acquaintances. Not the needs of our children. Not our boss. Not our employees. Not the girl at Wal-Mart who has no earthly idea where anything is and not the guy at the register who doesn’t magically know we are in a hurry. It’s not those “hypocritical church-people,” and it’s not the too-honest friend willing to say what others aren’t.
Our real enemy is the one lying in wait.
Our real enemy is the one who will gobble every harsh word we speak and vomit strife, tension and death into our relationships.
If we let him.
But we don’t have to let him.
You know this is hard for me. It’s truly hard for most of us. And you understand how words hurt us and heal us. You understand the power of life and death in the very ordinary responses we give every day. I’m asking you to make us sensitive, by Your Spirit within us, to these opportunities the Devil waits to pounce on. Help us catch ourselves and by Your power see the irritations of life as OUR opportunity to give gentle responses…words that soften and encourage hearts, including our own. Help us to see the true enemy, help us to speak wise and kind words that defuse anger. And most of all, please help us forgive and seek forgiveness as we walk this out. In Your name, Jesus. Love You.