One of the 242 people or organizations I follow on Twitter is Sylvia, a person who works in marketing at a hard rock venue down in Worcester, Massachusetts. I'm not entirely sure if I've met her…but I suspect I have. Either way, I think I started following her because the club's Twitter account suggested I should.
Now, I'm a bit of two minds about what she writes. She's very funny…but she also uses words I'd rather not see come through on my timeline. As an example of both, this was on of her tweets when a hurricane recently decided to visit our east coast:
"Thanks to Irene, I'm not the biggest heartless ***** in America right now."
That quote also reveals her Twitter persona…a hard woman with little patience for stupidity. Not the kind you would expect to spend a ton of time painting her toenails, if you know what I mean. But, with lines like these I think you can understand why I deal with the risk of ingesting profanity:
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
"I don't do dishes. When I'm done eating, I smash plates on the floor and walk out of the kitchen like a rockstar."
"Why is it that anything positive I ever say is followed by someone asking ‘Are you being sarcastic?'"
"I'm NOT crying, you ********. I'm having an allergic reaction to feelings."
"If you pull your sunglasses down and rest them on your upper lip while speaking to me I've already envisioned 16 ways to kill you with them."
"The child in me says ‘Eat candy for breakfast!' but the adult in me says ‘You're an adult! You can do whatever the **** you want! Do it!'"
"When I think about quitting coffee the fear is not that *I* will die…it's that *others* will die, and I will go to jail."
"I'd be a lot more inclined to take my godson Matthew to Build-A-Bear if they could help him build one that would maul my neighbors"
And so on… 🙂
So, do you now have a picture of Sylvia in your mind? Probably someone you'd have fun around, but not necessarily want to get in the cross-hairs of?
Well, on August 21 she tweeted something that we all can learn from. Few words that give us a lot of advice on how to handle her…and anyone else that lacks the patience of Job…or who can get hot under the collar quickly…
And Sylvia didn't even use up all 140 possible characters to say it. She wrote:
"I just found my Kryptonite: friendly people."
Now, I don't know if Sylvia is really a cranky or grumpy person…on-line personas can differ quite a bit from reality. But I've seen enough of her tweets to suspect that she is a wonderful person with a bit of a hard exterior. That she is someone who can speak to what it takes to disarm individuals who aren't known as the epitome of "congenial."
Their "kryptonite"…and I suspect almost everyone's "kryptonite"…is…
Do you agree? Have you ever had a situation where you were ready and raring to rip into someone and the person who answered the phone or walked up to the window was especially nice…in a genuine way…even after you started off the conversation unloading both barrels?
Perhaps it didn't work at first…and you continued to rant…but isn't it almost impossible to remain irate if for every unkind thing you say the recipient returns a considerate answer?
At this point, does any verse in the Bible come to mind? As soon as saw Sylvia's tweet one immediately popped up in mine. Perhaps you are also familiar with it. It's Proverbs 15:1:
A gentle answer turns away anger,
but a harsh word stirs up wrath.
"I just found my Kryptonite: friendly people."
Can you imagine being in a situation where Sylvia had a bad night, is feeling a bit under the weather, had some jerk in the line at Starbucks spill coffee on her, and as she walks into work you inadvertently catch her ire? She says something harsh to you and you have to make a choice.
- You didn't do anything wrong.
- You didn't deserve her wrath.
- You have have every right to tell her off.
As she's giving you the evil eye…what do you do?
"A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath."
Or, in some other translations (that was the English Standard Version):
- The NET Bible: "A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare."
- The Holman Christian Standard Bible: "A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath."
- The King James Version: "A soft answer turneth away wrath: But grievous words stir up anger."
- The New American Standard Bible: "A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger." (A translator's footnote says "harsh" is literally "painful.")
- The New Living Translation: " A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare."
- The Contemporary English Version: "A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up."
- The New International Reader's Version (a translation for children): "A gentle answer turns anger away. But mean words stir up anger."
- The Message: "A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire."
So there you are with Sylvia…you have to choose whether you want to return…
- A gentle answer
- A soft answer
- A kind answer
- A gentle response
- Harsh words
- Grievous words
- Mean words
- A sharp tongue
Of course, it really depends on whether you want…
- To turn away anger
- To deflect anger
- To turneth away wrath
- To soothe angry feelings
- To defuse anger
- To stir up wrath
- To make tempers flare
- To stir up anger
- To stir up angry feelings
- To kindle a temper-fire
So there you are…before fuming and coffee-stained Sylvia…stung by her sharp (and witty) tongue and you…?
What to do?
Of course, one Scripture (plus an insightful tweet) do not a doctrine make…so let's freeze you and Sylvia at that point and time and consider a few more references. The first is a little later in the same chapter as our first one:
A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
but he who is slow to anger quiets contention (Proverbs 15:18)
And 10 chapters later:
With patience a ruler may be persuaded,
and a soft tongue will break a bone (Proverbs 25:15).
Think of that…if you are patient and slow to anger…not only will you quiet contention, but your "soft tongue" will "break a bone."
Of course, if you really want to break the bone of that contentious person…then you aren't getting the point. 🙂
How about Paul? What does he recommend is tense situations?
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:18-21).
- As far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
- Never avenge yourselves.
- Do not be overcome by evil.
- Overcome evil with good.
And…if you overcome evil with good because you want him or her to face God's wrath…for our Lord to get vengeance…or to heap burning coals on his or her head…then again you aren't getting the point. 🙂
How about Peter? Did the Apostle who once cut the ear off the high priest's servant give us any advice?
8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing (1 Peter 3:8-9).
- Have a tender heart
- Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling
And just like Sylvia's tweet is another way of saying that a kind word turns away anger…something we've all been taught as children can express part of what Peter is saying…
"Two wrongs do not make a right."
You were called to bless…to overcome evil with good…and if you do so you will "obtain a blessing."
So here we are…frozen in time with Sylvia. Soon we have to make a decision.
- We had a bad night too.
- We don't feel very well either…probably the early stages of a cold.
- We got pulled over on the way to work.
- Our feelings are raw, and she just verbally slapped us when we didn't do anything wrong.
But before we unfreeze time and make a decision on what to say back, I'd like to share a story from Charles Spurgeon:
I once lived where my neighbor's garden was divided from me only by a very imperfect hedge. He kept a dog, and his dog was a shockingly bad gardener, and did not improve my plants. So, one evening, while I walked alone, I saw this dog doing mischief and being a long way off, I threw a stick at him, with some earnest advice as to his going home. This dog, instead of going home, picked up my stick, and came to me with it in his mouth, wagging his tail. He dropped the stick at my feet and looked up to me most kindly. What could I do but pat him and call him a good dog, and regret that I had ever spoken roughly to him?1
Time has unfrozen. It's time to respond to Sylvia.
A mediæval rhyme (which I'll total mess up the pronunciation of goes like this):
"Frangitur ira gravis
Quando est responsio suavis."
"Anger, however great,
Is checked by answer sweet."2
Sylvia's kryptonite is friendly people. Jesus says peacemakers will be called sons and daughters of God (Matthew 5:9).
What do you say child of the Most Holy One? How sweet is your answer?
1MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Pr 15:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
2The Pulpit Commentary: Proverbs. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (290). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.