"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)
My heart raced when I saw their number pop up on my phone.
I had been avoiding a conversation with someone who had already made it known to me that they didn’t see things the way I did. I just knew it was going to be hard and probably not go well.
Nothing in me wanted to have this conversation. I was beyond aggravated. Hurt. Angry. And tired of being misunderstood. Maybe you can relate.
I answered the call with only 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 many years ago, so the rush of emotion has dissipated, and now I can see more clearly how wrong my approach was.
One thing that has helped me over the years has 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).
When I dug into the deeper meaning of the word “gentle” in this verse, I found that, in Hebrew, the word is rak. Rak is used 16 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 gentle responses rather than harsh or painful ones. This enables us to turn away wrath instead of stirring it up, which only serves to cause further damage.
So how do we walk this out practically? Even with — maybe especially with — some of our most challenging relationships?
I have found it helpful to ask myself three questions:
1. What part of this issue can I own and apologize for?
Often when conflict occurs, two people have two opposing narratives about the situation at hand. And usually there isn’t one person who is perfectly right or all-the-way wrong. I’m not talking about owning things that aren’t ours to take on. But if there is a part that’s mine, I don’t want to let pride keep me from doing what’s right.
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, and it’s the only way I’ve ever seen the other person’s heart soften. 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 hurting people often hurt people.
Usually the person with whom I’m having a conflict has some kind of past or current hurt feeding this issue in their life. 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. Again, if I can lay down 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. Are there any necessary boundaries that may need to be implemented in this relationship?
If we continually find our emotions hijacked by repetitive conflicts or intense conversations in one particular relationship, it may be time to consider setting boundaries.
If this is new to you, I want you to know confidently that the purpose of boundaries isn’t to push another person away. It’s to help us fight for togetherness by defining what is and is not acceptable. We can do this all in a way that honors Jesus through displaying gentleness and kindness. Boundaries actually help us love others without losing the best parts of who we are in the process.
Your boundary should help set the stage so your emotions can stay more regulated, you can regain a sense of safety and you can feel more empowered to make any necessary changes. As you consider this, you may find it helpful to process with a trusted godly mentor or Christian counselor.
Conflict may be inevitable, but there is a way to pursue relational health and honor God in the middle of it all. I believe better reactions will lead to better conversations, better conversations will lead to better relationships, and better relationships will lead to better living.
Dear Lord, please help me pause and allow the Holy Spirit to intervene when I want to react in ways that don’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.
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What if all the emotional energy spent on saying “yes” to everyone else, walking on eggshells around people we love and trying to manage delicate relational dynamics is bankrupting us of our capacity for living in obedience to who God has asked us to be? If you're ready to gain the biblical wisdom and confidence to finally set boundaries you can keep, let Lysa TerKeurst’s new book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes, be your new go-to guide. Start reading the first few chapters today when you preorder here.
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FOR DEEPER STUDY
James 3:17, "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." (NIV)
The right way to approach hard situations is to respond in a way that's not only pure and honest but also peaceful. Ask the Lord to give you the wisdom you need to bring both peace and honesty into hard conversations.
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