He doesn’t finish his lunch, again.
Why this child cannot finish a single meal is beyond my understanding.
Twenty minutes after lunch is cleaned up and left-overs are scraped to the waiting hens, he asks it:
“Mom, did I eat all my lunch?”
I know this question is packed with meaning. What he really means to say is, ‘Hey Mom, even though I know I didn’t finish my lunch, I’m stalling and batting my eyes because I want to ask for crackers or bread or a granola bar or some other nutrition-less snack since I’m still starving after not eating the lunch you served‘.
I snap back without thinking: “Of course you didn’t eat all your lunch.” My tone is a bit too sharp for his sensitive self.
“Yes, I did.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“YES. I DID!”
“NO, YOU DIDN’T. Bud, I know this because I finished your sandwich for you.” I’m not yelling by any means but my tone is sharp. It’s been a hard day.
He turns, hard faced, and rosy cheeked and sticks his tongue out right at me.
Shocked, I stare, then silently walk away. That is not a typical response of my sweet nine year-old.
I flip-flop between fleshly stewing and grumbling and desperate whispers to Jesus, Saviour, to well… save me. I grumble about my attitude and his attitude and that uneaten half-a-sandwich. In the midst of my half-prayer, half-whine, my heart all of a sudden jolts, then softens.
I hear it loud and clear in my heart: a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
I know this already, but I forget. My heart forfeits the joy and chooses the harsh, impatient response. The wisdom of Solomon is apparently wasted on me some days.
An innocent child spills a drink all across and down two binders of homeschooling books and I snap, “YOU HAVE TO BE MORE CAREFUL!” The middle child, she stares, wide eyed. The youngest hides in the fort they’re making. “Look at this!” I’m frantic, trying to shake out pages and sop up water stains. “Agh! Mama’s book!”
Finally, the mess is tamed and I stop long enough to breathe and gaze upon my children. The youngest is guilty, lip quivering. I’m instantly softened. Why? Why do I do this? Why do I fly off the handle over a little spilled water? “Mama’s book!” So what about the book… Mama’s children are watching and hearing and feeling my reactions and my words deep in their little hearts.
I bend low and bring them close, trying to explain away my freak-out. As always, they understand. Always so full of grace. I realize that water dripping and books accidentally stained is nothing compared to hearts permanently stained with Mama’s harsh answers.
Doesn’t everyone in the whole of the world just desire a gentle answer?
When we ask a question, when we make a mistake, when we are having a bad day, when we are having a bad year – what does harshness do to our souls?
It stirs up anger, that’s what it does.
And as a Mom, I spent years giving the hurried, impatient, ‘I’ve-had-two-hours-sleep’ answers. And you know what I got in response? Yep, you guessed it – anger.
I didn’t see clearly then what is so profoundly true, I was the one stirring up recipes for disaster in my home. I was running around like an untamed bronco, giving harsh answer after harsh answer and wondering why everything was so messed up.
Because when you have three children under three and you are barely squeaking by, you can say a lot of things you’ll regret. Because if you aren’t clinging to the only One who can truly change the heart so the heart spews love and gentleness and kindness and patience, you are bound for disaster.
The hurried bed-times, the snappy answers, the not having time for a thousand 4-year-old questions. The uncaring, brash tone I wore just especially for my husband. All these things stirred up anger in the hearts of those I loved the most. And when you’re exasperated and lonely and exhausted, the last thing you need is anger. Because that anger breeds more harsh answers. And so the cycle of sin and selfishness goes – a never ending, joyless grind.
But oh, the sweetness when our eyes are opened, the scales peeled away and the truth revealed. I do not have to be a slave to my feelings. No, I can actually surrender my feelings and my desire to lash out, lose my temper, say what I’ll regret. I can stop and surrender to a Heavenly Father who comes to the rescue, breathes life into my lungs and enables me to exhale loving words. Gentle answers.
And then – as always – the Word of God proves true. You give a gentle answer, and it turns away wrath. And when that darkness is gone, Light has room to move right in.
And just like that, words and reactions can change your days and your whole entire life. Because isn’t it also true that words, our words, they either bring life or death? I choose, every time I respond to my children, to serve them up a heaping plate of life, or a rotting bowl of death. I choose.
But I do not choose alone.
That’s the glory of the life with Christ Jesus. With Adonai. With Emmanuel, who is God with me. I cling to Him, I fill my heart with His words, and His love and I ask His help in every situation, and He comes and He takes over. And slowly, slowly, my heart starts to look more like His. And when there is spilled water and uneaten sandwiches, all is still well.
All is well because my heart no longer jumps to the freak out. My words no longer fly off the handle and strike with harshness. My soul takes a big deep breath and I know ahead of time, I have already surrendered those moments to something bigger, something so much better. I have chosen to reach out for grace and give the gentle answer, to breathe the life-words. And Christ, in His unfailing faithfulness is there. And His peace prevails and love wins.
With those always ready gentle answers, the wrath flies out the window. Words become life, not death – and Mamas eyes are turned to heaven.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
“Words leave your mouth, your keyboard, but words don’t ever expire quietly in a void — they always explode in hearts.
Every verb you utter causes a corresponding action, a movement, in every listener.
Measure your words — they determine the distance of your relationships.”