I lost my temper. Again.
Before I knew it, I was raising my voice, trying to talk over my daughter. Our discussion was heating up and I was tired of listening. In my mind, she was saying the same thing over and over.
I, of course, had fresh new things to say.
As far as I was concerned, I needed to be heard. I didn’t need to hear. Which was the heart of the problem.
I’ve been thinking about the need to listen for a while, particularly since I finished our Bible Study on James last fall. In it, James exhorts us to be quick to listen.
Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. I can recite that verse from memory. I’ve always thought it had great wisdom. Wisdom for other people.
Learning Scripture is an entirely different thing from living it.
In the heat of a discussion, all of my knowledge goes out the window. I am quick to speak and slow to listen, and my anger spills out all over.
My daughter is trying to explain what happened. Explain why she didn’t do what I asked of her. Explain why I should offer her grace.
I feel I have heard it all before. Excuses for disobedience. Reasons why this time is different. I’m impatient and confiscate her phone in the process.
“I’m not sure when you’ll ever get this back!” I scream.
Doors are slammed and more unkind words follow. From both of us. I term hers disrespect, and mine justifiable. Anyone would respond the way I did under the same provocation.
Sin is ugly and I wonder how I ever got here. Blaming everyone else for my sin and letting my tongue get me into more trouble than I can imagine.
Hours later we talk again. That is much more to the story than I had known. But I had jumped to conclusions. Jumped down her throat. Assumed the worst.
I was so busy trying to be heard that I didn’t hear her at all. While I was supposed to be listening, I was just thinking about my response. Looking for a flaw in her logic so I could be right. Looking for a way to win.
When I do that, no one ever wins. We both leave feeling disappointed, slighted, misunderstood.
We both want to be understood. And no one wants to understand. For my part, there was so much to understand. So much I didn’t know.
I didn’t know all the facts. What exactly happened. What motivated her to do what she did. How she was feeling in our argument.
My friend Florence says, “In every argument, there is at least one piece of information that you don’t know.” That slows me down whenever I think about it. There’s one piece of information I don’t know. Perhaps something that could change my mind. Keep me from arguing. From assuming the worst.
Why don’t I remember that during an argument? Why do I assume I know all the facts, know how someone else is feeling, know why they acted the way they did? Why do I behave as if the only new information is how I feel?
I’m appalled at my behavior. Just like the apostle Paul: I do the very thing that I hate. I seek to be understood rather than to understand. I jump to conclusions before I extend grace. I am quick to anger yet so very slow to listen.
When I respond in anger, everything escalates. Immediately. I lose control of the situation and my emotions in an instant, and before I know it I find myself in an ugly mess, wishing I could pull it all back. My accusing words spill out everywhere; voices are raised, hateful words uttered, and doors slammed in retaliation.
It feels like an explosion.
Ann Voskamp says, “Anger is contagious. So is grace.”
Grace is contagious. Of course. God’s kindness leads us to repentance. A soft answer turns away wrath. Gracious words promote instruction.
When I calm down, lower my voice, really listen, everything changes. When I speak words of grace, choose my words carefully, seek to build up, something shifts. When I humble myself, admit I was wrong, ask for forgiveness and seek restoration, grace overflows.
Ironically, when I seek to understand, I am understood for the first time.