“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh words stirs up anger.”
Today I’m speaking to what may be a secret shame for many women. Especially wives & mothers. (So if you read any posts in this series, please read this one.)
I’ve seen it in the brimming tears of a young mom. I’ve seen it in the cold, hard space that lies between a mother and her teen. And I’ve seen it in the embarrassed look of a woman I accidently happened upon, yell-whispering words to a family member, delivered with a twisted and hateful expression.
Most of us are too embarrassed to speak with great harshness outside our home. It’s so ugly and looks so bad on us, that we generally keep it hidden within our four walls. We reserve it for those we are to love and steward most carefully. This should break our hearts.
I don’t think I’m too far off in this assumption because of something that happened years back. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Lord gave me a great gift in sending a college boarder to live with us when I had a preschooler, a toddler and a newborn.
Here’s why it was such a gift: In those early and trying years when patterns of speech and parenting are set, I was shocked by what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it, but didn’t because someone was within earshot. I was immediately convicted that if I didn’t want anyone hearing me say certain things or say them in a certain way, I shouldn’t ever be speaking like that. Period.
Though I am immensely thankful for that early course correction, it made me aware of our natural tendencies. It opened my eyes to the truth that there are many more harsh words being unleashed in our homes than most of us would care to admit. Any nods out there?
Our verse today offers counsel for us that is as life changing as it is simple, if we will heed it. Harsh words churn up anger. Tender words diffuse it. This is not rocket science. It’s a matter of cause & effect.
Then why do we do it? When we know what harsh words produce, why are they so easy and plentiful?
I could cut and paste from last week’s writing because many of the heart matters we explored with rash speech, are the very same things that fuel harsh words: When we allow anger, impatience, pride and selfishness to fester in our hearts, what proceeds from our mouths will not be sweet. Or if we nurse the emotional acid of hurt, unforgiveness & bitterness, you better believe that will seep into our speech and expressions.
Those are, by far, the biggies. But I’d like to add a few small and insidious culprits to our list today that might otherwise escape our detection and continue to cause trouble.
Disappointment – For most of us, life doesn’t play out according to the script we wrote for ourselves. When marriage takes more work and selflessness than we expected, discouragement can settle into our hearts and seep upwards. Or when day after day is spent wiping crumbs out of putrid, high chair crevices, training ungrateful toddlers, or unsuccessfully hoisting body parts to heights of former glory, we don’t feel like the glamorous heroine we wrote ourselves in as. That sense of disappointment and obscurity can creep from our hearts onto our lips. And then our words bite.
Pace – Carrying an unmanageable life load or setting an unsustainable pace is a perfect breeding ground for harsh words. When we are scheduled to the minute, all grace evaporates in the spiritual, emotional and relational desert we have created for ourselves. Betsy Corning in her fantastic study, Entrusted with a Child’s Heart says that “The first thing to go when we are a mother who ‘does it all’ is our sensitivity.” When we eliminate rest & margin from our lives, we kill our sensitivity and speak from shallow places of strain and ever-present irritation. The busier we are, the sharper the words that will slip from our lips.
Lax Parenting – We can often find ourselves being overly harsh towards our children because in the frenzied pace of life, we have become careless in training them. It can be immediately easier to let an offense or attitude slide. But as the issue persists and elevates unchecked, we become increasingly irritated. Instead of training our children at the initial offense before emotions heat up, we respond harshly because we’ve finally “had it”. We’re not teaching them life-saving obedience – we’re teaching them how far they can push us before we blow.
Disorganization – When we are not managing our homes and schedules as well as we should (Prov. 31:27), there is unnecessary chaos in our lives. When we don’t manage our time well and allow large chunks to be eaten up by laziness or value-less things, we can find ourselves scrambling. And in this self-induced panic, harsh words can splash over the husband who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or the child who is taking too long to tie their shoe (as if our being late is really their fault and hinging entirely upon this 30 second task and not on how we’ve managed the last 2 hours).
Misinformation – Many of us have bought into the lie that “harsh” produces results and gracious speech is powerless. We reveal that belief when we say things like, “It’s the only way you’ll listen to me.” Or “I can’t get your attention unless I raise my voice.” But that’s not what the Bible teaches to be true about human communication. My favorite evidence for that is Proverbs 25:15 “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” It’s the soft tongue that wields the greatest power. Don’t believe that gentle is “weak”. On the contrary, any woman can yell. That’s just a cheap, counterfeit for power. It takes a woman of incredible wisdom, self-control and strength of character to respond in gentleness. Don’t believe the lie.
As you can see, there are many potential culprits in our private, harsh speech scandals. Some are deep matters that need to be explored with an open Bible and a teachable heart. Some require a return to the trust in God’s sovereign plan and a delight in the knowledge that we are living His priorities. And some are simply matters of choice, biblical education or scheduling. Whatever the cause of your harsh words, your challenge this week is to discover it and take steps toward capping the harshness at the source.
Once that hard work is done, we can begin to introduce softening habits into our speech repertoire.
Outlaw unkind words. We all have a set of rules for our speech, whether we’ve thought about it or not. But the big question is how closely our unspoken rules line up with God’s plan for our speech. We’ve got some study to do to uncover any discrepancies. We need to set as priorities: praying for God’s help, saturating our minds with His truth, and memorizing as many of these governing verses as we can. When we begin to make a habit of this, we will naturally outlaw certain types of speech – purposing in our hearts that they will not cross our lips again. Wouldn’t it be great to think that people, especially our families, could say of us:
“She opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness.”
Envision a mirror in front of us when we speak. What expression would we see looking back at us? What would someone see if they stumbled upon a conversation between us and an offending co-worker? Friend? Husband? Child? Is that the expression we want our family remembering us for? Do our eyes harden the message being delivered or do they have a softening effect? Does our voice project a tone that causes others to shut down or invites them to engage? Do our eyebrows indicate rage and hatred or love and concern? Does our body convey an “against you” stance or a “for you” position?
“…but present…your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”
And think of phrases or pet names we can introduce that will soften our speech. I love to sprinkle pet names in all our conversation. Words like “sweetheart”, “honey”, “baby” and my super favorite, “darling.” Just try it. Try starting a sentence, request or reproof with “sweetheart” and see what it does to the words that follow. It’s almost impossible to speak harshly after starting that way. If that seems foreign to you, practice in writing. It’s easy to write that in a little note left on a bed or packed in a lunch box. Retrain yourself to use sweet speech. Your family will love it. They might even design make-shift, grocery bag mailboxes on each other’s doors for love notes.
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
As we undertake this task, we won’t get it right every time. We just need to be sure to make it right when we get it wrong. The only thing that will make harsh words worse is if we don’t own up to them and call them out for what they are.
Without God’s help, this is impossible. With God’s help, our part in the process is still really hard. But it is worth the effort and cost to eliminate harsh speech. And it’s way less costly than the toll those we love may have to pay if we don’t.
And if all that doesn’t work… get a boarder.
Three weeks left until the draw for the verse sign! Share or subscribe and you’ll be entered each time. Just leave me a note so I know and I’ll be sure you are entered. Thank you!