More Words of Wisdom from Proverbs

After the message this past Sunday, quite a few people mentioned to me that they thought I was preaching directly about them and to them. That’s not much of surprise since the topic was our words or how we talk to one another. As I prepared the sermon from the book of Proverbs I kept thinking that God had me preach on this issue because he wanted to speak directly to me! Rest assured that no one needed to hear it more than I did. It seems that the subject of our talk quickly exposes our sin and convicts our consciences.

I thought that I’d follow up here with a brief comment about a verse that didn’t make it into the sermon.

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

This proverb is teaching us that how we say something matters as much as what we say. That’s because while our words convey our thoughts our tone of voice conveys our mood. This is one reason that email or text messages are limited in their usefulness. They are great at communicating facts but can easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Example: If I text my wife and ask her whether she’s okay driving the kids around while I go to the gym, and she texts back, “sure,” what does that mean? Does that mean, “Sure it’s fine that you leave me to do all the work with the kids while you do your own selfish thing?” Or does she mean, “Sure that’s fine. I don’t care at all.” I don’t know because I don’t hear her tone of voice. If I heard her say, “Sure,” I’d know immediately which of the above meanings she intended.

Reflecting on Proverbs 15:1 it is obvious that what’s being contrasted is the tone of voice. We are told that gentleness and harshness produce different outcomes. When we are either on the verge of a conflict or right in the middle of it, we have a chance to affect the direction that conversation by the tone of our voice. This is important because not much good gets accomplished when people are upset, angry and tense. So when we find ourselves in those situations, often the best thing to do is diffuse the tension with a gentle response.

This verse applies to all people and to a variety of situations but let me make a specific application to parents of teenagers. Based on my memory of what my friends and I were like as teens and my experience as a parent of teenagers now, my observation is that teens have a tendency to get emotional or defensive rather easily. They tend to make small things into big things and be overly dramatic.

In those moments I think that it’s important for parents to remember Proverbs 15:1 and try to diffuse the tension by responding gently rather than escalate the problem through a harsh word. Harsh words (even if the content is right) simply adds fuel to the fire and prolongs a conflict. Proverbs would encourage the parent to say something like this, “I can tell you’re upset but I’m not sure why that’s the case. I am on your side. I want the best for you. Let’s just think about this issue together and try to figure out a solution that we can all be happy with.”

Said with gentleness and warmth, I think that this kind of response can lead to a much more productive conversation. No, it won’t solve all your problems and you will still have to sort through the conflict. But hopefully now you are doing it as part of the same team and not as adversaries.

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