Why did I say that? Why couldn’t I just keep my mouth shut? If only I had zipped my lips!
At least once a week I say something I regret. Sometimes it’s more like once a day. Or more.
Words come too easily for me. Especially words fueled by flaming-hot-emotions.
Sometimes it’s the words I say but other times it’s the way I say them.
The struggle is real. And I’m seeing a correlation between my emotional exhaustion and my verbal exhaust fumes.
The more depleted I feel, the more impatient I become with my tongue, my timing and my tone.
Thankfully, my good friend Karen Ehman has written a whole book to help me. In her new book, Keep It Shut: What To Say, How To Say It, and When To Say Nothing at All, Karen shares her own honest struggles, regrets, and hard-fought wisdom packed with a humorous punch. And today, I asked Karen to share something I loved from Chapter 9 that has significantly helped me (and thousands of others) reduce my word-regret.
“I am the proud owner of a Snuggie®. Yep, I have one of the “amazing blanket with sleeves.”
It was a surprise gift from my husband last year along with some dark chocolate, sort of as a joke. But do you know what? I absolutely adore this wacky infomercial item!
Not only can I stay toasty warm in the Michigan winters while typing on my laptop with my arms completely free and functional, but that cozy wrap is the softest blanket I’ve ever owned. It just begs me to swaddle myself up inside its fluffiness and sit for a spell. My only trouble with it is that my kids often steal it for themselves!
Softness feels good. It calms me down. Comforts me. Makes me feel wanted and welcomed.
I want my words to be like a Snuggie® – something soft and calming and comforting. Especially when I’m trying to answer a question asked by someone I love who is getting on my nerves. For example:
“Mom? Where’s my football jersey?”
“Honey, you don’t mind if my mom comes to stay for a week, do you?”
“Mom? Will you make your oatmeal dried-cherry cookies for my first-hour class? There are thirty-two kids, and I told Mr. Billings you would make some for me to take. Oh yeah. Tomorrow.” (Question posed at 10:15 p.m.)
“Do you mind sending me that information right away?” from a coworker who lost the emails already sent two other times.
So, what is the the biblically best (and softest) way to respond when irksome questions come flying our way? Proverbs 15:1 tells us: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (ESV)
Sadly, this is wisdom I don’t always follow. I can snip. Be snarky. Escalate the climate by barking back with another question like, “Well, how am I supposed to know where your jersey is? I’m not the defensive tackle for the junior varsity football team, and it isn’t my job to know where your things are, so deal with it, bubba. You can wear your sister’s pink dance leotard for all I care!”
Un-soft answers only worsen the mama drama in my house. And they don’t win many points with my coworkers or neighbors either. When we give an un-soft answer, we drizzle a little gasoline on the tiniest spark of a potential spat. It may combust and flare, setting off a big old blaze. However, when when we are intentional about giving a gentle answer to (sometimes foolish) questions, it prevents the anger from escalating into an inferno.
Giving a soft answer doesn’t mean I don’t give a truthful one; I just give it in a respectful and kind manner. The mark of a soft answer is that it doesn’t spark higher levels of friction and irritation but instead sets the stage for a healthy discussion. For example …
“I don’t know where your jersey is, but I need you to take charge of it yourself. I already have so many things I need to keep track of.”
“What week are you thinking of? I’m snowed under right now, so even thinking about having a houseguest stresses me out.”
“Honey, I wished you’d told me sooner about the cookies. I guess you’re just going to have to disappoint your teacher. We can pick up some store-bought ones on the way to school.”
“Here is that information. Lost emails are a bother, aren’t they? I’ve had that problem too. You might try an archiving service.”
In addition to these “softer” answers, I’ve asked myself a few questions to help pinpoint when and why I become irked, so I can plan ahead, and I encourage you try it. Just get a way by yourself for a few minutes and jot down your answers:
List the last three to five times you verbally let loose, and regretted something you said and/or how you said it.
Are there commonalities in these situations? ie. people, circumstances, physical or emotional states, etc.
Write down one or two patterns or triggers you see about why or when your anger gets the best of you?
Which patterns or triggers happen most often? For example: We’re running late for school or church. I’m interacting with a difficult coworker. I am tired. I am hungry. I’m overwhelmed.
Briefly consider the patterns that happen at home or at work, and how you and your family members/co-workers could do things differently to begin breaking bad patterns and create new, healthy ones. For instance: Can someone else help pack lunches for school and work? Is there a shortage of supplies? If so, how can you all identify items ahead of time so it’s easier to make sure everyone has what they need?
And for the next week, when someone asks an annoying question and triggers some sparks, silently pause (count to three) and shoot up a prayer asking God to help you craft a truthful, helpful and soft answer. Then watch to see how gentleness softens the climate in your home and at work. God’s word is true: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
More about Keep It Shut:
The average women speaks over 20,000 a day—not to mention the ones we type online. Karen Ehman—a woman whose words have often landed her in a heap of trouble— shares from experience the how’s (and how-not-to’s) of dealing with the tongue in her new book Keep It Shut. Using biblical examples, as well as her own personal (and sometimes painful!) stories, Keep It Shut will equip you to know what to say, how best to say it, and when it’s better to keep our lips zipped! You’ll also learn:
- The difference between gossip and properly processing with a trusted friend
- A helpful grid for using our digital tongues as we talk online or on social media
- How to pause before you pounce, attacking the problem but not the person
- How to avoid saying something permanently painful just because you are temporarily ticked off
- What the Bible teaches about making our speech laced with grace, as sweet as honey, and yet seasoned with salt.
Buy now from Proverbs 31 Ministries
Buy now on Amazon.com
CLICK HERE to watch the the Keep It Shut book trailer on my blog! It’s so good!