A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 NIV
Recently I was bushwhacked by harsh criticism from a loved one. Her words were too strong and untimely, and I reeled from the impact. Some of the issues she brought up are minor. For example, my late arrivals had been bothering her for at least four years, and at last her frustration boiled over. If I had known that by showing up 10 minutes early I would have closed the puzzling distance in our relationship, I would have jumped at the chance to honor her preference. She always seemed so laid-back about plans; I had no clue it bothered her. Why did she hold it in that long? Her answer: she didn’t want to add stress to an already stressful situation. I wish she would have let me decide how much stress I can handle.
To be sure, once I’ve cooled down I will confront her harsh delivery and her tendency to hold grudges. First I need time to pray and consider how I can speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). I will examine the grains of truth she presented, seek godly counsel on how to approach her, and show her compassion and grace. I understand very well how hard it is to confront, and also how productive healthy confrontation can be.
A people-pleaser and peace-seeker by nature, I grew up paralyzed by fear of conflict. My blood pressure rises when I watch something as benign as an ESPN debate panel discussing coaches’ decisions. Their raised voices and sharp, clashing opinions set me on edge. For most of my life I have suffered silently, uncomplaining, as I allowed people to make choices for me since I didn’t want to face their wrath by speaking up. I really didn’t know how to confront; I usually chose to withdraw instead.
When I married my husband, who has no fear of confrontation, I learned how to confront without cowardice. We work as a good team when we must confront someone. He is stronger on the solution; I am kinder in the administration. As we can’t possibly please all four sets of our parents simultaneously, much less all our siblings, we’ve combined our skills to confront when necessary. Their responses aren’t always positive. However, he has peace knowing that nothing is left unsaid, and I have peace knowing our delivery wasn’t disrespectful. It’s all in the presentation.
In some cases, confrontation has actually improved our relationships. Some loved ones are willing to grow from the confrontation; others aren’t willing to get past it. That’s a real risk we’ve faced as a couple. But I can honestly say I have no regrets—other than I wish I would have confronted sooner!
Speaking the truth in love is surely one of the hardest directives in Christian living. I’ve learned if I sift my words in prayer before I confront, they lose their bitterness. They become a practical way to love my enemy. Sometimes, my enemy turns into a friend—but only through confrontation.
How do you apply this proverb to your conflicts?