As is usually the case, the verses V. read to us tonight as a family were very fitting for the week I’ve been having: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” These wise words come from the book of Proverbs (chapter 15, verses 1 and 2).
First, I thought of all the endless political banter that has been going on among friends and acquaintances on Facebook. Sometimes I feel educated, sometimes intrigued, sometimes incensed. I catch myself wanting to say something in defense of my opinion, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but in all honesty I’ve said some not very nice things in my heart. There, I confess it. I’m pretty sure we have all thought some things in haste, in those moments our blood pressure rises and we just want to rant and rave with all our arguments and thoughts and stories, to prove that our way of thinking is superior to someone else’s. If I say that I am a follower of Jesus and that he has transformed my heart, what exactly would I be saying about my faith and my heart if I “lost it” over a political commentary? I have prayed that in all my replies, that I would stand firmly on what I believe, but that I would do so with respect, dignity, courtesy, grace, and love. I value my diverse friendships, and I want my words to reflect that. “Gentle” does not mean “weak”. A gentle person possesses strength, but he or she is able to pull the reins on that strength to fit the situation. “Harsh” brings to mind something like the feel of sandpaper, or the smell of bleach, or the blast of a wintry wind. Harsh words have the same effect on the heart, making us bristle, cringe, and shiver. It is more important to me to have these friendships than it is to try to prove that I am “right” by roughly shoving my thoughts in someone’s face. I think we can all agree that no one person has all the right answers for our nation! When I feel a heated response welling up in my throat, or in my fingertips as I prepare to type, I try to remember the ideas of these verses and how I would want someone to respond to my thoughts. It makes good sense, too, how gentleness is associated with wisdom, and harshness is associated with folly. When we stop to think before reacting, we are wise. When we are impulsive, we are often foolish.
Just as a gentle answer serves us well while debating politics and other worldly matters, I have also learned the power of gentleness while dealing with our daughter’s tantrums lately. I wrote about one of her episodes recently, truly believing it was an isolated event. It turns out, that was just the beginning of one of the hardest weeks she’s had, emotionally speaking. There are moments when she will seem to turn on a dime, going from happy and giggly to raging and sobbing. I’m quite alarmed at times, almost at a loss to know how to console and help her return to calmness and reason–or at least as much reason as one could expect from a 3-year-old. For a 25-pound little girl, she is strong. My husband and I together struggled to change her diaper tonight before bedtime, to give those without toddlers an idea of their sheer strength of body and will. Every time she gets worked up into a meltdown state, I am always trying to find that balance between being stern (because I can’t let her think that screaming and crying will get her her way) and being tender (because I can’t let her think that screaming and crying makes me love her less). Honestly, I’m worn out from trying. I almost can’t bear the thought of what might set her off tomorrow, because it seems it could be anything from who gets to close a door, the exact path we take across the school parking lot, or the way we wash hands in the sink. We have certainly seen her have tantrums throughout her toddlerhood, but to have two or more that last more than 15 minutes, each day, is way out of the norm for her! No matter what, I have seen that gentleness definitely triumphs over harshness in this case as well. When I stay calm, even if I’m stern, she responds better than if I lose my cool and get loud.
It’s easier for me to stay calm in the midst of online discussions than it is to keep it together in the face of our little girl’s tantrums. There are parts of me that want to just follow her lead and sob, and shout, and repeat “NO” until the feelings have passed. I know that toxic feeling in the heart, I know the struggle to maintain gentleness. I do not have a choice in the matter, though–if I say my heart belongs to Jesus, then that means my whole heart. It’s not like I can say, “well, I’m doing well with kindness, love, and faithfulness, but gentleness and patience…not so much.” The whole heart means, the whole heart! Thankfully, the one who transformed my heart in the first place is still at work in there, growing things, changing things, as long as I keep my heart open and available to that Perfect Gardener of souls.