If you have ever had that individual in your life who just sets you on edge the moment they open their mouth to speak, you know how hard it can be to spend time with them, or even to want to engage in conversation with them. What frustrates you the most is the seeming inability of the individual to take the hint and just change what it is which bothers you the most. Most of the time people aren't too good at taking hints - they need a direct, honest, and "tempered" response to whatever it is they are doing or saying which gives you such an issue in the first place. We all think someone will get our hints, then wonder why they continue to act as they do - setting you into a bundle of pent up frustration and emerging hostility toward them. Well, it may not be them who needs to change as much as it may need to be you!
A gentle answer makes anger disappear, but a rough answer makes it grow. (Proverbs 15:1 ERV)
I haven't mastered this by any means, but I have learned there are times when I need to let go of the things which seem to grate on my nerves about the other guy. In fact, as soon as I realize they haven't a clue they are grating on that last nerve is when I see the futility in me being as concerned about it. We probably have seen the little cartoon where the guy looks all frazzled and he has one or two hairs stick up on end with the caption which reads: "I had one nerve left this morning, and you just got on it." It seems like that whenever we encounter these tough people in life, but they don't purposefully look for that one nerve, you know. If we were to be honest here, they had no clue the type of day we have had, or the lack of sleep we might have had the night before. They don't know your looming deadlines, nor do they appreciate the traffic you went through to get from point A to point B today. The issue isn't in their not knowing - it is in our not sharing.
In essence, we wait until someone gets to the point of driving us nuts and then we unload a good one on them. Now, I have to ask, "How ya doing with that one?" If you are like I am, you feel worse after you say whatever it is you say, or unload your sorry state of frustration on them full-force. I used to be this terrible "gunny-sack" kind of person - holding up all my frustrations toward a person until just that "right moment", and then unloading the full bundle on them all at once. The garbage which came out when I did almost always made me feel worse, not better. Why? You cannot regurgitate stuff and have it taste good in your mouth! It just isn't possible. That which got putrid in the "sack" will also be putrid when it is let out of the sack!
Some things I have learned over the years which help to keep me from the boiling point, or from the unnecessarily hurtful responses are:
- Remain "current" in your relationships. It is pretty devastating to a relationship to be going on along as though nothing is the matter and then come to find out someone has been holding all this stuff inside them which never got dealt with at the time. This is the principle taught behind the scriptural exhortation to never let the sun go down on your anger. It festers and becomes putrid within you. When it eventually comes out, it has a different form than when the issue first happened. I have a compost pile. The stuff I put in there a couple of weeks ago doesn't look at all like it looked when I put it in there. The heat of the day, invading insects, and the other factors which impact the stuff I put in there under "dark cover" all change whatever I put in there. The same is true of the stuff we bury in our lives. There are forces at work which take what we put in there and warp it into something no longer akin to what it is we first were taking issue with.
- Be kind in your response. It may take you a little practice on this one, but you don't have to be two-faced about it - you just have to be genuine, and then rely upon Jesus to help you be kind in your response. You will learn kindness at the feet of Jesus. I often lift up a little (and very quick) prayer to him to just ask him to "temper" my response. I want to say something like, "How stupid is that" or "Would you just think before you speak", but that isn't kindness responding. What it is might just be akin to bitterness, pride, or manipulation. If we begin to examine our less than kind responses, in the light of the Word of God and the help of the Spirit of God within, we might come to the conclusion we have a little root of pride which manifests in the "better than thou" kind of curt responses we are returning to someone. If we find we are kind of nasty in our responses, we may just discover we have been burying a lot of stuff which has just built up into full-fledged bitterness. Regardless of what we discover, it is about "us", not the "other guy". This is the place the transition between anger and kindness takes place - with us first, then in expression to the "other guy".
These aren't rocket-science, but they are true, nonetheless. Relationships are hard and the best ones will endure the bumblings of our foolishness. The ones which just don't endure are those who are made up of one or more individuals who cannot take an introspective look on occasion, recognize the need for change, and then really commit to the change. Just sayin!