Then Jan did the next amazing thing. She smiled. “I’m sorry I held you up back there,” she shrugged. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
Now for the last surprise. The raging driver man smiled back and said, “No problem, ma’am.” And he was back on the road again.
Our soft tongues, our gentle words, can break hard things, bones or otherwise.
More Powerful Words
Gideon, of wet fleece, rolling loaf, and trumpet and jar fame (see Judges 6:36-7:25), also knew the power of soft, bone-breaking words. He was a judge of Israel. After his fantastic defeat of Midian, he faced harsh words from countrymen who had not been part of the victory force.
When the jealous men of Ephraim “accused Gideon fiercely,” his words were soft:
What have I done in comparison with you? […] God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?’ Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.”
Judges 8:2a-3, ESV
God used Gideon’s gracious words to soften angry men’s hearts. He can use our words the same soothing way.
Soft Words Break Hard Hearts
I saw the power of soft words up close and personal this week. One night, our son was very late. My husband was hot. Hard walls were up. But we learned more and my husband wrote soft words in a note. The son received the words, with a “Thanks, dad,” and a lately-elusive smile and
That might not sound like much. But in this house, these days, it was huge. It was God’s mighty, bone-breaking power on display.
It was an example this naturally harsh, exacting truth-teller needed to see.
More proof that soft moves hard.
So don’t you want to try softer? Don’t you want to give grace? And for God’s sake, let’s not be afraid to say sorry.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Pat thought what you wrote was a little passive-aggressive, a mutual friend relayed, her eyebrows raised.
The charge caught me off-guard and I winced. I’d never thought of myself that way- as a sort of silent and brooding, wounded-then-wounding type. Then again, sometimes we are blind.
So I raced off to re-read that post, with a sharp eye for the signs. But try as I might, I didn’t see the backhanded jabs of passive-aggressive. And as much as I can know my own heart, I knew that there was no motive to hurt in those words.
But, like Chesterton said, to have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to beright in doing it. The words came off as hurtful to friend I respect. So I pulled the post.
And that was the end of that.
Find The Kernel.
Turns out, I’ve been sitting with Pat’s passive-aggressive charge for 2 1/2 years now. Which, I suppose, might prove the point. Maybe. We’ll sift that out later.
And why, you ask, are you so relentless about this kernel business?
Glad you asked: It’s because I know that letting hard truth land on me– painful as that is- always propels growth. Because I’m learning that if by God’s strong grace, I can chew on the seed without shattering my teeth, the odds are that its truth will nourish my soul and change me for the good.
What Is Passive-Aggressive?
Passive-aggressive, for the record, describes a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials.
Passive-aggressive behaviors might include:
Putting off responsibilities
Carrying out responsibilities late, not at all, or inefficiently
Using forgetfulness as an excuse not to do things
Having pent-up feelings of anger
Resenting and blaming other people
Avoiding direct confrontation, resenting, sulking– who can’t relate, at least a little?
Not guilty. And guilty.
But even in light of the list, I have a clear conscience about the post.
But what about the kernel? What about me would make Pat think that?
Do I sulk and pout?
Do I resent those who hurt me?
Am I tempted to hurt others back even when they hurt me unintentionally? (But only in socially acceptable ways of course- like avoiding eye contact or withholding smiles, or forgetting her special day when she forgets mine?)
I do and I am. Guilty as charged. Pat was wrong about the particulars. But Pat was right about me.
And I suspect I’m not alone. Because passive and aggressive come natural.
Here’s what I mean.
Get past natural.
Once upon a run, a ferocious German Shepherd bit me in the hamstring. It broke the skin. It hurt. At once, I wanted to kick the dog as hard as I could and run away as far as I could.
I think that’s our reflex reaction when someone hurts our feelings, too- fight or flight. Lash out or flee. Both are knee-jerk natural.
But Christians are called to something more. We’re called to supernatural. We are called to love one another. Loving people like Jesus loved means we have to move past the soul’s passive-aggressive preset.
Some situations might call for boundaries. I get that. But if we cordon ourselves off too tightly to prevent hurt, we might miss out on kingdom blessings (see Matthew 5:1-12) that come from giving love. I’m learning to be wary of promising in my pain, “I’ll never get close again.”
To Forgive Is Divine
Human love demands risk.There is no safe investment, C.S. Lewis said. To love is to be vulnerable.
Maybe you’re less prone to retreat and more apt to fight back. Your preset is “To vent,” and “Tell ’em like it is.” When unfair stings you, it’s up to you to let her know how much she hurt you or let him feel the pain he gave.
These reactions all come natural. In a comment, commenting on 1 Peter 1:6–7,John Piper explains that,God allows trials in our lives that could make us very angry. If they couldn’t, they wouldn’t be trials. But the reason he does is to refine our faith the way gold is refined by fire.”
So will we? Will we look through the hurt to the sovereign goodness of God that allowed them? Or do we shut God out and let our passive-aggressive grow.
Only one is supernatural.
The Cure For Passive-Aggressive
There is a cure for every one of our sinful, destructive patterns. They’re not all named and described like in the DSM-V, but our Maker is our Healer and He wrote the complete diagnostic and treatment book. What’s more, through his Holy Spirit, he gives his children the power to carry out the cure.
Here it is, the Passive-Aggressive cure. It jumped out at me on another run when I wasn’t being chased by dog. It’s found in 1 Peter 4:19: Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.When I got home, I jotted this down:
1. Passive >> Continue to do good.
2. Aggressive>>Entrust yourself to your faithful Creator.
3. Passive-Aggressive>> Forgive (and keep forgiving whenever the hurt wells up) and cover with love.
And remember, If you hold a grudge, you doubt the Judge. Surely the judge of the earth will do right. His eyes see all. The thoughtful, or spiteful, lips and hands and the unforgiving, bitter hearts.
God will give you opportunities to do good to those who hurt you. I know He will. Years ago, in the throes of some big hurt, I prayed that the man who hurt me would need help, and that I would be able to give it.
God answered that one before I’d prayed it more than a handful of times. I saw said man with a broken down truck on the side of the road on my way home from work, and I thanked God and stopped to ask if I could help. It was part of my cure.
Do good. Trust God. Cover in love.
Cover WITH Love
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Keep on loving. Stay engaged. Fake it till you make it. I keep coming back to a passage in C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. Here he explains what it looks like in real life when we cover with love.
A game, a joke, a drink together, idle chat, a walk…-all these can be modes in which we forgive or accept forgiveness, in which we console or are reconciled, in which we “seek not our own.“Who would rather live with those ordinary people who get over their tantrums (and ours) unemphatically, letting a meal, a night’s sleep, or a joke mend all?
It’s supernatural, strong grace when we’re able to “get over our tantrums” and just get on with it. Sulks come far more easily than doing good and trusting God and proving I do by telling a joke or smiling at the one who hurt me.
But that’s covering. It’s humility. That’s love.
Covered BY Love
The last part of the passive-aggressive, bitterness cure, I think, is to remember that we ourselves are not always so lovable.
I’ll close with a quote from a previous post. Incidentally, it’s a revision of the post that Pat took issue with. And it’s as true now as it was then. It’s about covering.
It’s Lewis again:
There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved…You might as well ask people to like the tastes of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All may be sure that at some times…they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them.
There’s no other way. You are, and I am, receiving Charity. And it’s not because we’re always lovable, but because Love dwells in those who love us and cover our sins.
Our ladies’ small group finished the book last week. But before she’s shelved beside Puritan peers, I must pay my respects to the fair lady.
By way of recap, meekness isnot a shy temperament. Nor is she mousy or weak. She is certainly not “tolerant” refusal to reason or settle on truth. I can’t resist including this century old G. K. Chesterton quote, describing such misplaced meekness:
What we suffer from today is humility [meekness] in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason . . .(Orthodoxy, p. 31f.)
Meekness is “an attitude of humility toward God and gentleness toward people, springing from recognition that God is in control.”1Meekness is power under control. She helps us govern our anger when provoked, and patiently bear the anger of others. She lets us keep silent when the heart is hot, and put up with insults.
In a June, 2013 Revive Our Hearts broadcast, Nancy Leigh DeMoss shared this wonderful example of meekness. George Whitefield was an 18th century English itinerant preacher and evangelist. During his ministry he received a malicious letter accusing him of wrongdoing. He replied:
I thank you heartily for your letter. As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever say about me.
With love in Christ,
Such adornment! Meekness makes us more attractive, certainly to our Lord, and likely to our neighbor. Adorn yourselves with a meek and quiet spirit, wrote Peter, which is very precious in God’s sight. We must remind the Father of his beloved Son when clothed with meekness. Learn of me, Jesus said:
for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:29)
No wonder a meek spirit is so precious to God.
Are you a spiritual bee? (#4 below)
Matthew Henry offers these “good principles which tend to make us meek and quiet.”
He has the sweetest and surest peace who is the most master of his passions. Whoever controls his temper is better than a warrior…He that rules his spirit than he that takes a city. (Prov.16:32) Application: At the start of the T-ball season, our son seemed to be parked in the outfield, without much fielding opportunity. Were the coaches following rotation protocol? (Wo! to the Tiger Mom in me.) My spirit was vexed. In prayer, the Spirit convicted me to wait before I spoke or fretted more. Sure enough, sweet peace was restored-and before the next game when Gabe rotated to pitcher.
In many things we all offend. We all stumble in many ways. (James 3:2) Henry adds, [Knowing man’s tendency to sin and stumble]should not be used to excuse our own faults and take the edge of repentance…but to excuse the faults of others and take the edge off our passion and displeasure. Application: Sometimes when others do not acknowledge “personal” emails, I (wrongly) take offense. Was it received, read, meaningful? I was just recently working into that peevish state after two unrequited notes, when what should appear? Scrolling through “marked as read,” I spotted a few of my own. No excuses and no edge off this repentance!
Men are God’s hand, as it is said in Psalm 17:13-14.Men’s reproaches are God’s rebukes and whoever he be that offends me, I must see that the Father corrects me. Application: Exhibit 1: Gabe’s quote above. Out of the mouth of men and babes, God speaks. I stand corrected- again.
There is no provocation given us at any time, but if it be skillfully improved, there is good to be gotten from it. It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable. Application: Last Friday a dear friend suggested I was being deceptive during a discussion. I wasn’t.I was being gracious, ambiguously allowing the possibility that the subject of our conversation had no ill intent. That’s all, not being deceptive. I (defensively) explained. Then, buzzed the bee. I zipped my lips. Maybe I could be more forthright.
What is said and done in haste is like to need repentance. As when Abigail suggested to David that repentance would be needed if he avenged Nabal’s household. Application: An email again. The tone of the email was sarcastic and accusing. I drafted my response. Not mean, just clear and direct. Then- two sentences in- I paused. Don’t add gas to a fire. Or, to borrow Henry’s word picture, be soft sand, not loud rock, when the waves hit.
In case we’d need something more concrete than “principles,” Matthew Henry ends his essay with these “Rules for Direction” (AKA: “9 Tips To Be More Meek “):
1. Sit loose to the world and everything in it. Break a piece of new china when it arrives so you won’t be too attached to the set. 2. Be often repenting of sinful passion. If we confess our sins… 3. Stay out of the way of provocation. If possible. 4. Learn to pause before speaking. Count to 10 if you must. 5. Pray that God will work a meek spirit in you. Amen and amen! 6. Be often examining your growth in this grace. As my head hits the pillow. 7. Delight in the company of meek persons. So grateful for the meek, quiet friends God has given me. 8. Study the cross of our Lord Jesus. Who, when insulted, opened not his mouth. 9. Converse much in thoughts with the grave. Death will quiet us shortly; let grace quiet us now. (p. 143)
“Patient and meek beneath affliction’s rod, And why her faith and hope were fixed on God.” -Engraving on tombstone of Bridget Kilroy, who died in 1848 at age 50 in County Clare, Ireland
Gabe’s comment wasn’t my only tip-off. I need more meekness. So, I tip my hat to Lady Meekness, and pray she’ll adorn me more and more ’til this life is past.
1. Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary.