“The heart of the righteous weighs its answers,
but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”
–Proverbs 15:28 NIV
In my debut novel, The Five Barred Gate, Jacob, the main character, has an unfortunate personality quirk. He speaks his mind without giving thought to the consequences of his words. The problem with his personality trait is that he does not realize he is doing wrong. In his mind, he is trying to help out. In most cases, while his words are accurate, the bluntness at which he delivers it is inappropriate.
It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode. George is dating an attractive girl named Audrey. Her only flaw is that her nose is big. As pretentious as George is he wants to say something but doesn’t know how. One day the gang is eating at Jerry’s apartment. Audrey says she’s intimidated by the attractive girls in NYC. Kramer then says, “You’re as beautiful as any of them, you just need a nose job.” Of course, everyone is flabbergasted at Kramer’s comment. He spoke his mind without consideration of the consequences.
We may not be as audacious as Kramer, but how many times do we open our mouths and utter something that was better left unsaid. With a friend, a spouse… our children? Words do damage and once spoken they cannot be taken back. Are we speaking without first considering the consequences of what we say? Do we ever contemplate how to handle the situation and decide if anything even needs to be said in the first place?
First, we need to examine our hearts. How do we feel about that particular situation? Do we have ulterior motives for behaving a certain way? Do we have a history with a person and desire revenge? Many arguments begin because we get wounded and in defense, lash out. We speak without forethought. Then, when the situation calms down, we regret what was said. It doesn’t matter what was meant. It doesn’t matter whether or not it was true, or if they misinterpreted your real meaning, the damage is done. The words were said and the hearer has interpreted it for themselves.
“I can’t believe you did……” “Well at least I don’t….”
“What’s the matter with you?” “You always….” “You never….”
“What’s your problem” “Are you stupid?”
“You need to be more like….. “That’s a dumb idea”
“You’d be better if you ….” “You can’t do that because….”
“That’ll never work” “It may have worked for so-and-so, but you…..”
Words. They can build up or they can tear down. Two relationships are affected most: Your spouse and your kids. The home is where we are comfortable. We don’t have to put up the facade we often display in public. Our guards are down and we speak freer than we would with someone at work.
Don’t get me wrong, we love our families. But we often choose the wrong words to motivate. Yes, we want to challenge our kids to help them excel, yet when they fail or do something wrong, why do we use ugly words with them? “What’s the matter with you?” or “Are you stupid?” And just as bad, we often compare them to others, “Why can’t you be more like your brother? Your sister? The neighbor’s kid?”
Just as bad, if not worse, we can get ugly with our spouse. “Why can’t you be more like so and so’s wife? or husband?”
Here is something — There are two words that should be removed from all heated conversation. “Always” and “never.” As in: ”You never do this,” and “ You always doing that.” Honestly, they don’t always never and never always. Right?¹ So why say it? Should it matter that we have been injured and feel the need to retaliate? We desire a change in the other to be better than they are, but using negative reinforcement? It never works. It only make things worse.
“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” – Matthew 12:34b NIV
So what is our heart full of? Anger, bitterness, self-loathing, jealousy (uh oh). When any negative emotion surfaces, nothing but bad can come of it.
We accept things. The hurts that are lashed out against us, we take them and most of us bury them. Instead of addressing the issue, we hide how we feel until we can’t stand it anymore. We push it all into the closet, cramped with all the other things he like to hide. We stuff it in tightly and hope the latch doesn’t break, but it does and like a Bugs Bunny cartoon we are overcome by all that was once hidden.
Then, we allow those emotions to take over. The hidden junk in our hearts that would have never surfaced otherwise, speedily burst forth until the flood of our wrath has demolished everything in its path.
For instance, your spouse leaves his or her clothes on the floor right next to the hamper. You ignore it at first. And ignore it. And ignore it again. Until one day you come home from work, where the boss really laid into you that day. You are not in the mood for anything. You’ve picked it up, yet again, and burst out all the day’s frustrations on your spouse. Or perhaps the kids didn’t take out the trash like asked… BOOM you let them have it. Now it wasn’t anything they did… you’ve just had a bad day. But we let our bad day handle the situation for us.
The solution? Training. We need to train ourselves how to take a moment and simmer down before speaking. Count to 10… 20… for some of us it’s 100. Get away. Politely excuse yourself and go somewhere quiet and calm down. Pray about how to handle the situation. If it’s something you’ve been burying, it definitely needs to be handled.
After you cool down, if there needs to be a discussion sit down with the other person and explain how you feel. Speak in soft and honest words. (Remember, never and always are forbidden here. This is a conversation, not who did what to whom)
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
–Proverbs 15:1 NIV
It’s amazing how a kind word can go a long way. Even in correction. It’s all in the delivery. You can choose to point fingers and be rude, or you can sit and have a rational conversation. Pray about it. Seek God’s direction on how to handle it. Carefully consider your words and don’t be manipulative. Talking about it airs out emotions and relieves the pressure that has been building.
Sometimes talking about it helps you realize how silly each of you may have been. Perhaps you’re making too much of nothing. We all do it, get upset over an issue that is really not that big of a deal. But perhaps it is a serious for one or both of you? Maybe a neglective spouse? A disobedient child? An overbearing boss? A manipulative friend?
How do we handle these people? Do we follow God’s word and think before we speak? Do we use gentle words over harsh anger-filled words? Are we seeking God in how to handle our situation? Remember each of us is built different (See: The Same, But Different.) Different experiences place our push buttons in different places. But when we seek God and fill our hearts with Him, then we can work through the most difficult situation with the most difficult people.
God can heal the hot-tempered person, just as Jacob learned in The Five Barred Gate. God can save a relationship that has been scarred by bitter words. It’s only when we put it all into God’s hands and allow Him to do the work of changing people, and not try to change them on our own, will the difference be made.
Keep in mind, sometimes that change needs to begin in you. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true. Seek God, then first look in the mirror. Are you the one who needs changing? Fill your heart with God through His word and prayer. When our hearts are filled with His love, our actions will speak louder than any words we could say. Then healing begins and we can move on in our relationship. Our mouths will produce fresh gentle water with weighed answers steeped in thought and consideration through the Holy Spirit.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
— Romans 12:18 NIV
“…As far as it depends on you….” Seek God before you speak. Trust in Him to give you the correct response. When you turn to the Lord when aggravated, His Spirit will comfort, and relax your stirred up emotions. He will show you how to handle the situation. Then, most of all….take His advice. Eat crow if you have to. (Gibbs rule number 51… sometimes you’re wrong.)
Don’t be proud. Don’t feel you need to win this round, or any round. Display Gods love. Forgive if it needs to be given, but don’t count on forgiveness when you need it extended to you. Just because you are the one extending your hand to calm the situation, you cannot count on the party to relent. Do as God directs and you will be comforted. When we think before we speak and weigh our answers we will be doing our part at living at peace with everyone.
1. Quote from Pastor Duane Mayberry. Don’t remember the exact date.