Gentle or harsh, wise or foolish

Posted on February 22, 2017 · Posted in Communication, Parenting, Proverbs, Wisdom

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It is late in the day. You’re tired, no, make that exhausted. Your head is pounding. It’s time to fix dinner. At this moment that seems the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest in flip-flops and beach shorts. And at this precise moment a dispute breaks out about who has the gaming screen next. So you do the only thing that you seems possible. In a sharp, stern voice that is loud, but not quite yelling, you say:

“That’s enough! I’ve had it. You want dinner? Then sit down, give me the iPad and don’t say another word until I call you for dinner. Do you understand!”

At which point, one child starts whimpering, and the other one defiantly looks at you and says, “that’s not fair”, and sits down with his arms crossed. You find yourself somewhere between despair and overload. iPad in hand you turn back to the kitchen to face Mt. Everest. Somewhere in your deep consciousness you find yourself thinking, please God, please help me.

This may not exactly fit your life, but it may not be too far from it. What is the way out?

The Holy Spirit answers you in Proverbs 15:1-2:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.

The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable,
But the mouth of fools spouts folly.

There are, of course, many passages you could turn to, but let’s examine this one. These two verses are designed to fit together. The first two lines of each verse connect with each other as do the last two lines. The two first lines teach that a gentle answer stops an out of control situation from becoming worse. The gentle words make your instruction acceptable. Likewise, the two last lines fit together to show a stark contrast. A harsh word spoken into a dispute stirs up even more trouble because foolish destructive words are erupting as if they were spoken by fools.

Solomon is saying gentle language spoken in love has the power to turn back upset and wrath. Let’s revisit the scenario above. You are still exhausted. Dinner still needs to be made. The dispute still happens. But this time your follow Solomon’s encouragement. It might look like this:

You walk into the room where the dispute is happening and in warm voice you say, “Children, come here and sit down with me. I know you both want to play with the iPad. But right now, we need to get ready for dinner. I want you both to come back to the kitchen with me so that we can make dinner happen more quickly. I love you both soooo much. After dinner I’ll make some time for you to play. I know that there are some games you can play together. I’ll help you find one. Right now let’s pray and ask God to help us.”

By taking the gentle initiative, you have given good direction, shifted everyone’s focus, including your own, away from self interest and towards working together to serve each other and God. It may take awhile to get comfortable with the power of gentleness. But trust the Holy Spirit, it is what God wants you to do. A soft, gentle answer does turn back wrath.

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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.