A Gentle Answer Turns Away Wrath… Really?

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Amy Smalley shares how reigning in her temper has improved her marriage.

I reconnected with an old friend today. This verse in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stirs up anger.” I was challenged to look back and see if we’ve made any progress in putting this message into practice. As I look back on the last 15 years of my marriage to Michael I see many times I’ve blown it and blown up at Michael, the kids or others. And there have been some victories as well when I have held my tongue, turned the other cheek, and responded with patience and gentleness.

If I’m honest I can’t say that every time Michael gave me a gentle answer I turned from my wrath. So does it mean that this scripture doesn’t apply to me or us? I know that’s not the right answer but that’s how I feel. As a Christ follower, I am confronted with my own questioning and doubt in this area of my life. And as we hear from so many of you I hear your frustration of wanting and doing the right thing- like turning away anger with a gentle response. So what gives?

When I don’t know the answers to my questions I go back to a prayer I have prayed since high school. “God give me wisdom and understanding.” Solomon was the wisest and richest man that supposedly ever lived. He seemed like a great person to pattern my life after. He was rich and he made wise choices. Asking for wisdom is like a buy one get three free coupon. I ask for wisdom but what I get has multiple positive outcomes.

Gaining wisdom helps me gain perspective. Do you remember the Matrix movie? Remember Orpheus asking Neal if he wanted to take the red pill or the blue pill? Neal chose to see the alternate dimension that was a reality he wasn’t aware of before. I like to think of wisdom as choosing to see the multiple layers of the human condition that is happening all around. I want to know why so I can understand and possibly react in a way that might help that person make a better choice. Some of you may be married to someone like me who flies off the handle- I’m not physically abusive but my words can pierce like an arrow. I am learning how to deal with my tongue and can see the freedom of taking responsibility for my tone, my harshness, my unrealistic expectations, etc. that drive people away from me.

It is in my nature to want to fight, to pursue, and to finish what I start. I’m not a quitter and in the past I felt like if I stopped an argument I was giving up—so I left my Michael verbally bloodied and bruised. I’m not saying he didn’t throw a few verbal punishes my way, but I was the professional at anger, and still am, unfortunately. So what has made a difference? Michael’s gentle answers, firm boundaries, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit have set me up to succeed. If you know someone who struggles with a temper like me- I want you to feel the freedom to stand up for yourself. If the person you love is a Christ follower then by confronting the person in love you are keeping them from sinning against you.

I suggest you start taking some time to think and pray about what to say. Second, pick the right time and place. And then when you are ready, humbly approach the person by saying something like, “I recognize our relationship has been difficult and there are some things I want to do differently. ___________ Fill in the blank with something personal you want to change that doesn’t blame, shame, or criticize your spouse. “I don’t want to allow things to build up and for me to become more resentful. I want to commit to handling myself better.” Then, and only then, share your need for change in the dynamic of your relationship. You might say something like, “I need us to commit to allowing each other to take a time-out when either one of us feels like the conversation isn’t going well. I will commit to coming back to the topic at a specified time, but I cannot allow us to demean each other like we have in the past. It is not good for you or me to get out of hand like we have.” (The “we” statements will help the other person not feel totally at fault- remember it’s not about assigning blame it’s about setting a boundary)

If your spouse shuts down and seems to punish you when you share hurtful feelings then approaching the situation with prayer, good timing, and vulnerability looks a little different. When I do it right I say things like this to Michael when I know he is shut down, “It seems like you are really upset right now. I want to let you know when you are ready to talk I will be open to hearing your feelings and needs.” Then I walk away and leave the ball in his court. He has tested me for a while but if I don’t act mad or upset he usually opens up and let’s me know what is bothering him. If days were to go by and I could still tell he was shut down then I would call in back up, like our small group or a trusted mentor.

I recently visited with a couple where the man shut down because he felt that by not engaging, he was being loving because he wasn’t adding to the chaos of the argument. If this is the case please try to understand that not engaging might be sending the message of not caring. His intention may very well be to care enough to not allow chaos to rein or to hurt the relationship more than what it was currently experiencing. But it might just send the wrong signal and end up hurting the relationship anyways. I like to call this behavior the “peace at all cost” type.

The war rages underneath the pleasant and many times not so pleasant surface. If you identify with this scenario know those around you feel the tension and the jabs you take at each other. Your kids rarely miss jabs. 

So to finish this post, I think the thing that has changed the most in me is my self-justification of my anger. I no longer blame others for my poor response. I recognize the absolute dishonor and sin that it is. There’s something about agreeing with God and allowing Him to use my sin to draw me into a more humble attitude. I no longer want to tolerate my anger as just “how I am.” I am a child of a King, dearly loved, and called by my Father to love others fully and completely. And allowing my defensive, critical, and blaming attitude does not produce the righteous life God desires.

I have been set free to love others- even when I’m cranky- I really do have a choice and the more I recognize it the more freedom I have through Christ to live free from the bondage of my anger or expectations of others. My slavery probably looks different than many of yours but my deliverer doesn’t. I love this verse “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery Gal. 5:1.

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