Gentle Answers

I ended my last blog post with a verse from Proverbs. “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” Proverbs 15:1

I think a lot of us can attest to this verse. We’ve been on a receiving side of someone snapping an angry answer at us, only to feel that same anger rising in us at the way we were spoken to. Our angry voices go back and forth until someone has the good sense to walk away.  

What would happen if we were gentle in our answers to people? If instead of spitting back their anger, we set it aside and showed them gentleness?

Gentleness is often attributed to weakness, but I don’t think that’s true. From experience I can say it takes more strength and control to bite back an insult than it does to just say it.

I am not a parent, but I’ve worked in a caregiver role at a home for teenage girls. And let me tell you, angry answers only get you one place: escalation.

There were many times when I had to shove my instincts down, when I had to bite my tongue and take deep breaths before responding. And not just because I was doing my best to follow the Jesus’ example, but also because you only have to throw gasoline on a fire once before knowing it only makes it worse.

When you snap back at a teenager, know you’ve just loaded their arsenal and focused their target. They will return your anger back to you, doubled and intensified.

Not to mention you often lose trust––when you can’t control your emotions, they no longer entrust you with theirs.

But something else happens when you remain calm. When you don’t feel the need to hurdle back their attitude in their face. They are able to mirror your energy instead.

I had seen Proverbs 15:1 played out when anger meets anger, but I began to see the power of it when anger met gentleness.

When there is an angry person in front of you—teenager or not—you have two choices: escalate or de-escalate. You can escalate the situation and get angry back, challenge their emotions, dismiss their reaction. Or you can de-escalate and be an active listener, talk to them in a steady voice, present choices for letting go of their anger and dealing with the situation at hand.

It’s amazing how anger will yield to patience and empathy. Don’t we see that in the movies? How Black Widow calms the Hulk by being gentle, how the villain only really wanted to be loved and accepted. Not that the angry person in your life is going to be a super-villain or a giant green monster, but antagonizing them for how they feel is never going to benefit anyone in the long-run.

Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning that something else is usually lurking beneath the surface of that anger. Something deeper, something painful. Our gentle answers build trust and a feeling of safety. They communicate to the people around us that we aren’t scared by this show of emotion and that we are willing to stick with them while they figure it out. Angry people don’t need our anger in return, but they do need our grace, love, and gentleness.

There are many verses in the Bible about a “wicked tongue” and controlling the things you say, but the verse that makes me think the most comes from Jesus Himself. In Matthew 12:34 He says “Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”

When we speak, people see our heart. I want to show them a heart like Jesus–full of mercy and love, not a heart of malice and venom.

If your heart is hurting and you don’t know how to bite back the harsh words that snap out of you, I suggest you take some time in prayer and reflection to discern what is causing your anger and frustration. When you find the root of the problem, then you can really work on how to begin to heal. And know that we will never reach perfection, and only God can fully restore our hearts to peace; you do not have to do this alone.

*If you want to dive more into controlling our speech, James 3 focuses on this topic.



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