Three Questions You Must Ask Before Reacting
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)
My heart raced when I saw the number pop up on my phone. Nothing in me wanted to have this conversation. I was beyond aggravated. Hurt. Angry. And tired of being misunderstood.
I answered the call with two goals in mind — to prove how right I was and how wrong the other person was.
How do you think that conversation went?
This conflict happened over nine years ago, so the rush of emotion has dissipated, and I can see more clearly how wrong my approach was.
And while I’m far from being in a place where I can shine my halo, I am getting better at not letting those initial thoughts of "I'll show you" leak into my reactions.
One thing that has helped me greatly over the years has actually been memorizing — and making every effort to live out — our key verse for today, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
The Hebrew word “rak,” which is translated as “soft” in this verse, can also be translated as “gentle.” It’s a word that’s used 18 times in Scripture and relates to the quality of being tender, soft or delicate in substance. The connection with “answer” means our response should soothe and comfort the one listening to us.
This means that, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to exercise emotional restraint by giving soft responses rather than harsh or painful ones. This enables us to turn back wrath instead of stirring it up, which only serves to cause further damage.
So how do we walk this out practically?
I have found it helpful to ask myself three questions:
1. What part of this issue can I own and apologize for?
There are always two sides to every issue. And no side is perfectly right or all the way wrong.
If I make peace with the part I need to own and apologize for before the conversation, there's a greater chance I'll stay calm in the conversation. But if I enter in with a heart set on retaliation, Proverbs 15:18 reminds me it will result in conflict escalation: “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention” (ESV).
2. How can I soften my heart toward this person so I honor them despite how they react?
This one is hard. Really hard. But I know hurt people hurt people.
Usually the person with whom I'm having a conflict has some kind of past or current hurt in their life feeding this issue. Chances are that hurt doesn't have anything to do with me, but it’s adding to their emotional response in this conflict.
Softening my heart is easier if I can sympathize with the hurt I can't see. If I can duck below my pride, honor will be my reward. Proverbs 29:23 reminds us, “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor” (NIV).
3. If I knew this conversation was being recorded and then shared with people I greatly respect, how would this change my reaction?
What if I showed up to church this week, and my pastor directed everyone to watch the screen for an example of a bad reaction? And then my face appeared. Have. Mercy. I. Would. Surely. Faint.
While it is highly unlikely that our conversations will be recorded and viewed, it is very likely others are watching our reaction. Children. Co-workers. Friends. But here's the one that really grabs my heart — my Jesus is very much present. Philippians 4:5 reminds us, "Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near" (NIV).
Every conflict has variables to consider. Some conflicts have escalated to the point where professionals must be asked to help. Be mindful and prayerful about when this becomes a needed and wise step to take.
But for the everyday conflicts we all have, these questions are good to consider. And Proverbs 15 confirms if we control our reactions in the short-term, we won't have to live with "reaction regret" in the long-term!
Dear Lord, it’s easy to honor You with my carefully thought-through actions, but sometimes it’s much harder with my reactions. Please help me pause and allow the Holy Spirit to intervene when I want to react in a way that doesn’t glorify You. Even when I’m caught off guard, may Your love and patience be the spillover from my heart. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Proverbs 18:21, “Words kill, words give life; they're either poison or fruit — you choose.” (MSG)
Do the difficulties of this life leave you constantly anxious and prone to overreacting? Discover how to better process disappointment and painful situations with Lysa TerKeurst’s new book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. Order your copy here today.
Are you in the midst of celebrating in your walk with Jesus? Or, are you struggling through trials and tribulations? See how God’s steadfast love and faithfulness is present through all of life’s circumstances. Join Lysa TerKeurst and the rest of our team in the First 5 app on March 4 as we begin our study on Ezra and Nehemiah, Opposition and Opportunity. Click here to learn more.
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Which of Lysa’s three questions resonates with you the most right now? Join the conversation here today.
© 2019 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.
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