Saturday, 7 July 2012

A gentle answer turns away wrath...

Aaaagghh.

Oh, hello God.

I am cross. I am scowling. My shoulders are tense. If I wasn't typing my fists would be clenched.

Everything in my world is conspiring to annoy me. Someone is going to get a piece of my mind, as they say. If the children don't settle to sleep soon, it's going to be them.

I read this, the other day:
'A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.'
Proverbs 15:1

That might be the case. I'm sure it is. If you say it is, then it is. Sorry. I'm sounding very crabby, aren't I?

It's just that it's hard sometimes. (Crabby, and now whiny.) It's hard not to retaliate, to snap back when someone snaps at you. It's hard not to be sarcastic. My mum has always said that if I can't think of anything nice to say, then I shouldn't say anything at all, but that is also not easy. It's very hard to maintain a dignified silence, sometimes. Jesus, when you were around here, did you ever get so fed up with people that you wanted to shout at them? Point out their shortcomings? Get them off your back? Put them down?

I don't suppose you did, did you?

I do. Often. Usually with my family. When I feel that people aren't doing what they should do, when my children won't co-operate, when they come up with a million reasons why they can't do as they're told - that's when I get a bit snippy. There's no merit in being able to silence a small child with nasty words, is there? No prize for stirring up a husband's temper by being sharp and critical?

Oh dear.

You see, I'm good with words. Sometimes. I think in words and I can usually make them do what I want. It's very satisfying and it's a gift that I love. I have a need to express myself and for the most part that's a good thing. But occasionally it's bad. I can think quickly and I can articulate my ideas and sadly, the flip side is that I can come out with something really cutting or hurtful if I'm provoked and angry before I can stop myself.

Being a words sort of person has a down side. Several, in fact. I often bore people with long winded explanations or flights of fancy that incorporate imagery or extended metaphors; that's one. Another, and a bigger down side is that I'm nifty with words when it comes to being nasty, as well. I don't blow my own trumpet when I say that I have a way with the cutting phrase. The mean remark. Something quick and cold. I'm not proud of it, and as I get older I try harder and harder not to indulge this side of me.

I say 'indulge', because a gentle answer may well turn away wrath, but a harsh word is so satisfying. Someone winds me up, or irritates me, and carries on doing it, and it is so, so tempting just to say something to shut them up. To wipe the smile off their face.

It's something that I battle with. My two daughters are beautiful, clever, creative, imaginative, wonderful and sometimes endlessly frustrating. A hundred reasons why they can't put away their crayons. A thousand reasons for not cleaning their teeth. A million why they can't settle to sleep at night. How easy is it for Mummy to close their bedroom door abruptly with a sharp word. How often do I come downstairs and after a cool-down period - usually only ten minutes or so - I'm back up there feeling remorseful and hoping they're not asleep yet so that I can put the record straight with a cuddle. How many times have my crossness at teeth-cleaning time only served to make Katy clamp her lips closed more firmly?

Words are my friends and also sometimes they turn on me.

'A gentle answer turns away wrath'. It does. I used to work in a busy clinic at a hospital and when people had to wait for their appointment they were often angry and critical. I found that an explanation and apology given gently and honestly diffused a situation where meeting their anger head on with defensiveness led to a bigger explosion. It's so much easier with people I don't know. Somehow it's here at home that it's hardest to handle conflict.

There have been flash points in conversations sometimes in this neck of the woods where the whole evening ahead hinges on a gentle answer...or a harsh word. There have been times when no sooner are the harsh words out of my mouth than I wish that I could take them back and replace them with the gentle answer. Wrong choice. Was it worth it, to get that off my chest, that sharp remark that I just couldn't bite back?  Nope. Too late... so much harder to pick up the pieces than never to smash it in the first place.

It's a temptation. For a brief, fleeting second, it's good to hurt. The darkest side of me that hits out when upset or wounded or furious wants to land a good punch.  Some people would throw one physically, but I might just lob in a bit of sarcasm or a cutting comment. There. How do you feel now?

You know all this. You made me this way! (See? It's your fault). You've seen me in action on numerous occasions. You've also seen the times when I do manage to control myself and bite back the bitterness or the rage. Those times aren't as numerous as I'd like them to be, Father. I want to be someone known for her gentleness and her encouragement, not the hurtful stuff. And I want to be known that way in my own house. It's said that you always hurt the ones you love; I think that's the case. The people that I love so much that I would die for, the ones that I spend all my time with, the ones that see me at my best and worst - they are the ones who bear the brunt of the overtired me, or the irritable me, or the hormonal me. Bless them, Lord, for their patience and forgiveness.

I read this verse from Proverbs and I didn't like it much. I didn't like it because I know that far too many harsh words come from me, and nowhere near enough gentle ones. Help me, Father. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control, and I need more, please. Lots more. I want to build people up, to instil confidence and contentment, not tear down self esteem and bring fear and uncertainty.

I don't like to admit any of this. It's fairly easy to hide from the outside world, but you know, don't you, Lord. I'm needing some help with it all. Forgive me all the times that I get it wrong, Father. Heal the wounds that I leave behind me when I say things that are harsh. Help me do it all so much better.

More gentleness, please, less harshness. More wrath turned away, please, and less anger. More massaging and less stirring. Building up, not tearing down.

And for now, I'm going upstairs to see my children, who have kept quiet since I left them in no uncertain terms that I didn't expect to hear from them again tonight. Elizabeth's little face was sad when I snapped at her. I'm hoping they're not asleep yet as I want to give them hugs and kisses and snuggle them down and wish them good night with gentle words.



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