“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20, ESV)
How much healthier would our relationships be if we took God at His Word and actually followed the admonition of Scripture? In our foundational pre-engagement program, we give our clients tips and tools for engaging in more productive, less damaging conflicts. We actually believe disagreements can be good for relationships. They challenge our thinking. They show us the other side of the coin. They strengthen our emotional muscles. When handled well, they can even draw us closer!
It is not conflict which harms relationships; rather, it is how the conflict is resolved.
Time after time, I have allowed my emotions to take the wheel. Eric says something I do not like, my feelings get hurt, and woosh! My mouth opens and words I can never take back come pouring out. If I could just live by James 1:19-20, what a difference it would make in my life – in all of our lives! Anger is a natural reaction, but it is almost never helpful to act on anger before thinking through the situation.
Let’s consider the breakdown of James 1:19:
- Step One: Be Quick to Hear – I can remember an instance when I was furious with Eric. In my heart, I nursed a “righteous” indignation. He was wrong; I was right. He was a jerk; I was not. You get the point. ~smile~ When the situation came to a breaking point, I unleashed on him. It was in written form (as I do not typically think as clearly and quickly on my feet) and without praying first, I sent my grievances hurling through cyberspace. I re-read my e-mail a few times and there was nothing for which I was sorry – nothing I wanted to take back. I was just sure that he was mean, insensitive, and in need of a swift emotional kick to the backside. Then, I got the humbling of my life. When he calmly approached me to discuss my “concerns,” and I actually heard his heart on the matter, I was humbled. I realized how much I was at the center of my own anger. He was experiencing just as much frustration towards me as I was towards him, if not more. When we hear each other before we allow ourselves to boil over, we will usually leave the conversation with a greater understanding of the other person’s heart and perspective. Truly comprehending our sweetie’s points of view will defuse most volatile encounters. I should also add, if you want your loved one to be quick to hear, you need to give him or her the opportunity to hear. Stuffing your emotions down is unhealthy (emotionally and physically) and robs your significant other of the opportunity to work it out with you.
- Step Two: Be Slow to Speak – Have you ever stopped to notice how often you interrupt? Maybe you do not interrupt as much as I do! I can remember a very frustrated college friend asking me, “Do I get a turn to speak?” during one of our heated altercations. There is no telling what we were fighting about, but we both wanted the floor. We both had something to say and the other person was going to hear it! When we are not quick to hear, we are naturally quick to speak – or quick to abandon. If I am busy trying to hear you, I am probably not going to be talking over you. Maybe God really did give us two ears and one mouth as a life lesson on the ratio of listening we should be doing. If we get step one right (listening), step two (speaking) is much easier to master. When you are in a conflict with someone, step back, do not give place to your pride (pride is so destructive – and really, what do we have to be prideful about?), and allow him or her to speak first. Show that you are trying to understand; and, after hearing, slowly and gently speak. If he or she is still trying to talk over you, it is okay to request the chance to respond. However, verbal hurricanes are often downgraded to slight breezes when the other person feels heard and receives soft answers (Proverbs 15:1).
- Step Three: Be Slow to Anger – When I shut up, listen, and then speak (a little), I typically do not get angry – at least, I don’t stay angry. It is our pride and selfishness which jumps on the “I want what I want and you’re going to give it to me” wagon and demands to be heard. In those moments when we choose to control our emotions instead of bowing to them, we discover how much calmer and serene life can be. We also realize how similar we are to others. After listening and understanding, do we not find much common ground?
Being quick to hear means seeking to understand the other person. Many of us simply listen long enough to form a dynamite response – one that will prove our rightness beyond the shadow of a doubt. ~smile~ No matter how right you believe you are, seek to understand his or her point of view. Then, when it does come your time to speak, be thoughtful about your response. “Do I say the clever phrase I want to say? The one that will stick it to her good? Or, do I say what she needs to hear – what will build our relationship?” Sometimes five to ten seconds of consideration is all it takes to save you from saying something you will regret!
Most of the time, if you are quick to hear and slow to speak, you will be slow to anger. Jumping to conclusions has caused much of my own anger over the years. When Eric and I communicate calmly and clearly, I seldom emerge from the discussion angry – almost never.
So, let us take God’s Word seriously. Read, meditate on, and memorize James 1:19-20. Let it sink into your heart and mind until it is second nature to obey it. See how it revolutionizes your communication and conflicts in your relationship. ~smile~
Are you usually quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to get angry?