A number of years ago, I bought myself this little plaque as a reminder of one of my goals. It reminds me of hope while keeping me humble. Here is its story…
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with speaking before thinking. This has posed a problem in many relationships over the past four decades, and I am not proud of some of the hurt feelings I have left in my wake.
As I have matured spiritually, I have seen God softening this tendency in me. Unfortunately for my level of personal comfort, this process of maturing has taken a fair amount of time, patience and humility. I knew it was necessary, though, if I wanted to have healthy, thriving relationships.
I think the turning point for me was when the realization hit that the words I had spoken in anger to my husband during the first three years of our marriage were still deeply affecting him in years four, five and six. It was tough for him to UN-hear some of the hateful things I had said. My husband is a remarkably forgiving man, too, which kind of mystified me. I had seen him forgive big things–HUGE things, in fact–but he was having difficulty with putting some of my hard words in the past.
Up until that time, I kind of claimed the whole “that’s just the way I am” line that so many of us adhere to. As I watched my marriage struggle to regain its Christ-centered focus after a rough start, though, I decided that I needed to drop the excuses and make some lasting changes.
This is when I ran across two verses from the fifteenth chapter of Proverbs. The first one claims that a gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The second one–just a couple of verses further on–tells us that the tongue that brings healing is a tree of life and that a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. The second one gave me pause; I was not outright lying to anyone, was I? I then realized that, in my emotional ups and downs, I was not living in Truth. On some days, I was high in the morning, on top of the world because everything was perfect, then I was in the depths of despair that evening because the whole world was against me. On other days, the pattern was reversed; my days began in depression and ended in euphoria. These are not truths. I had let my unstable emotions get the better of me, and it was affecting my perception of life. In my dark times, I lashed out at Dave, blaming him for my hurts and disappointments–taunting him with his apparent failure to make me happy. I had made a habit of stirring up anger and crushing spirits when life was not going my way.
The reality is that Dave made some mistakes in those early years. The reality also is that I could only control what mistakes I did or did not make. I had to work on me.
I took these verses to heart, and I began speaking more gently to my husband–not just in relationship to our marriage, but regarding life in general. I thanked him when he did something for me–whether or not it was the way I preferred it to be done. I chose to be silent when he got on my nerves. When he made me angry, I allowed myself some time to process my anger–to see if it was really Dave that was the problem or if I was just allowing him to be my “punching bag” for something else. It was hard. I remember furiously scribbling my feelings in my journal, allowing myself to vent in safety. Oh, the ugly, untrue things I wrote! I am so thankful that God gave me this perspective. Weeks later, when I would re-read my rage-filled entries, I hung my head in shame with the weight of the wrath that had been loosed on my husband for so many years. I had crushed his spirit.
Thankfully, God’s Word is full of healing words–words of forgiveness, mercy and grace. Dave and I have clung to those words as we have rebuilt the foundation of our marriage. We have delighted in new mercies every morning! We have drawn from the power of the Holy Spirit, which gives us beautiful fruits like self-control, joy and peace. We rely on this Power to see us through in our marriage, in our parenting and in our faith. It is vital.
The benefits of healing words are not limited to marriages, either. They are of great value on virtually every path we walk. We can speak life and gentleness while waiting in line at the grocery store, while inconvenienced at the bank, when rubbing shoulders with co-workers and when interacting with frustrating family members. No kind word or loving truth is wasted.
From what I’ve written, you may assume that Dave was the primary beneficiary of my commitment to speak gently and with healing. To be honest, I don’t think he was. I don’t even think that I have been the most blessed by this commitment. I truly believe that the biggest advantage has been for our children. They have heard love and seen it demonstrated in a healthy, godly way. They have seen mistakes made, apologies extended and forgiveness given. They have been raised in a home that is predominantly one of peace. This is one of our gifts to them.
Dave is a marriage and family therapist. (Yes, please feel sorry for me…) One of the questions he asks parents who bring him their “problem child” to fix is, “How much yelling is there in your home?”. Dave is convinced that the way the parents interact with one another has a tremendous bearing on the behavior of the child. As in all things, there are exceptions to this. However, there is enough of a pattern to be recognized.
If, in speaking gently and with honesty to one another, we increase the odds of success for our children to have healthy, productive relationships, then they are our true beneficiaries…with a tremendous ripple effect that can be far-reaching.