Proverbs 15:1 (NRSV)
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger
My mother was a yeller!
She was a good mother, and we know she loved us, but she would occasionally lose her temper, and when she did, her words could be very harsh! It go so that I was used to her raising her voice, and rather than fighting back, or listening to her, I followed the advice of my older brothers, to just let her yell, and nod in agreement with what she was saying until she was done and I could get away…then I would do pretty much whatever I wanted any way.
Now my father was a different story. When he sat me down and calmly expressed his disappointment in my behavior I knew that I had messed up bad! He was not a yeller, and seldom lost his temper, which is why when he got mad it really made me think about what I had done, and made me never, ever want to disappoint him again!
Dealing with my mother taught me that once the yelling began it just escalates the anger and all common sense goes out of the window, so that nothing is learned, or accomplished, except for a lot of hurt feelings! While my father taught me the truth of today’s reading, that the softer words can often have the most impact, as when a reproach is spoken in calmness and in love, it is more likely to hit home with us, and cause us to look at our behavior, and this can lead to change!
These are lessons that I forgot as I was raising my daughter!
When she was a teenager, and facing many of her own struggles, we got into a lot of fights! Often these led us to yelling at each other, which lead to things got thrown, doors slamming, and things were said that we both came to regret! In the midst of these arguments I could feel the tension and frustration escalating, both within myself and for my daughter, and soon the reason for the fight became lost in the rage we both let ourselves get caught up in!
It was not a pleasant time!
Then, I remembered what I had learned from my parents, and I could see that my yelling did not help make anything better, just worse. So I began to make an effort not to yell, but to try and stay calm, to speak softly and to know when to walk away and let things cool-down before continuing to address an issue. Sometimes, when things did quiet down, I would realize that it was best to let go of the issue entirely, and at other times, we found a way to talk about it without so much anger.
This is what Jesus taught us as well…for when he said we should turn the other cheek, I don’t think he meant we should allow ourselves to be mistreated, but that there were times when in order to win, we had to surrender. For it is in the aftermath of anger, that our real work at reconciliation can begin! It is the soft word that makes a difference, not the angry rebuke!
Although I know that yelling does not help, it has not always been easy to refrain from using harsh words with my daughter, especially when I am upset, angry or scared, and it is not always possible to just walk away from a conflict, especially once my temper has kicked into high-gear! So, I have had to practice staying calm and using softer words, or just keeping my mouth shut when I knew if I said one more word, it be one too many! When I feel things getting out of hand, I can often stop and say a prayer for strength and calm, and even just those few moments of connecting with God can help diffuse a bad situation before it gets any worse.
Once I have calmed down, I am then able to make begin making amends. Sometimes just saying I am sorry, and then following through by changing my attitude can make all the difference, as it can move us towards healing whatever has been broken between us.
Today, the storms of adolescence have faded for my daughter and I, and while we still get into some disagreements, we seldom argue any more. I am grateful for this, and glad that we found a way to avoid the really nasty fights we used to have. However, even though things are better, our relationship continues to develop and to grow. This is why today’s Proverb still hits home for me, and practicing it help in any part of my life, while driving, or at the store waiting in line, and at the Call Center where I work and deal with frustrating people all day, and in my personal relationships: with my daughter, those I love, and with myself. For I have learned how true this Proverb is: that harsh words and anger can only make things worse, while a soft word can calm the storm and lead us forward towards reconciliation.
Let Us Pray:
Dear God, please help us to follow this Proverb as closely as we can in our lives, especially when dealing with our children as they struggle with the lessons of life. Help us to always offer a soft word rather than a harsh rebuke, and in the same way, let us offer soft words to ourselves for those times when fall short. Thank you for being with us and our children always, offering us guidance and support which can help us to show compassion and forgiveness to others, and to ourselves.