A Gentle Answer Turns Away Wrath - Tried and Found True
Meeting the Neighbour
My eight year old daughter came storming into the house in a torrent of tears and flung herself onto the couch. My son followed her, his face was flushed and his eyes showed a mixture of feelings - comfort and calm being decidedly absent.
The story unfolded.
They had met one of our new neighbours and it had not been pleasant.
Our dog had broken away from my son. My daughter had run after the dog. The dog had run after the neighbour's cat and the neighbour had yelled. The kids cleared out of there as soon as they had the dog and came home in a tumult of emotions that I was now trying to sort out.
We debriefed. We decided not to take the dog near her house again. We determined not to upset her again. All would be well.
Good Intentions Fail Miserably
However, the very next day our ever adventurous dog managed to make a break for it again and off he went, straight to the unhappy neighbour.
This time my oldest daughter and a helpful neighbour were the brunt of her angry words, and there were plenty.
We all came into the house that night with an uneasy feeling in the pits of our stomachs. It isn't a good feeling when you upset someone. Despite our best intentions it is obvious that our dog is going to manage to escape our grasp occasionally and it is obvious that her house is his new favourite place to go.
Four children went to bed with big, worried eyes and lots of questions. Why does she get so angry? Will she really call the pound? Will she really get the neighbour's dog to eat our dog?
How can I explain? All I can tell them is that she must have a lot of pain in her heart and angry people are desperately in need of kindness and friends. We pray for her and we pray that we will be able to show her kindness and despite the quaking in our hearts we pray that we will be able to be a friend to her.
Operation Gentle Answer
After a night to reflect, I am feeling rather angry about the whole thing myself. I don't like that this neighbour has yelled at my children. They are just children and they were obviously trying to get their dog back. How dare she upset them and make the threats that she made.
But I am also more convinced than ever that someone who would yell at children has a heart full of pain and there must be more going on than a woman simply upset about a dog after her cat.
At breakfast I tell the children that I want to go and see the lady today. Wide eyes look back at me.
"What if she yells at you?" they wonder.
"Well, then I will speak quietly and calmly to her. She might yell, but if I speak gently, usually it is hard for people to keep on yelling."
We talk about Proverbs 15:1 -- A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
I wonder and I pray. How will my encounter with this neighbour go?
I walk to her house carrying a bowl of fresh strawberries, a peace offering. My heart pounds a bit and I pray. I dislike confrontation. I don't like being yelled at. What is waiting for me at the end of this short walk?
I knock at her door. I introduce myself. I apologize for our dog. We chat. There is no yelling. It all turns out OK. She is a lonely lady with a serious illness. She really does need a friend. I get a sense of her pain filled heart as we talk. I pray in my heart as I speak with her. I want to reach out to this woman. Before I leave there are plans made for another visit, a way for me to come and do something that would be helpful to her.
She tells me there is rhubarb growing in her backyard and I should go and pick some for myself.
Four children eagerly look up at me when I arrive home. They are curious. Did she yell at me? Is she really scary? Is she still going to call the pound to come get our dog?
I relate how our visit went.
My son proclaims it a miracle.
"Wow mom, it really does work. A gentle answer really does turn away anger."
I smile and feel thankful for this whole episode. I also explain that it could have been different and that sometimes it takes lots of gentle answers and the person still stays angry, but we are still called to look beyond the anger and see the heart of pain that causes such behaviour. We can still respond peacefully, instead of matching the anger and fueling the confrontation.
That evening I make a strawberry rhubarb drink.
The girls see that I have used the rhubarb and are interested that we are using the neighbours gift, but my son sees the metaphor.
"Hey, mom the rhubarb is sour -- kind of like what the neighbour was -- and the strawberries are sweet -- that's like our present -- and when we mix them and add sugar -- that's the gentle answer-- it makes a good drink."
Well done. That is exactly what I was thinking.
We sip our strawberry rhubarb drink and we pray for our neighbour and I wonder how the days and weeks are going to go? What will I learn from this neighbour? Can I share with her the love of Christ?
I am glad that my children are not scared of her anymore; that now they are concerned for her and they want to be able to visit her too. However, we all agree that it really is best if our dog doesn't visit her and her cat again. Somehow, we must keep our friendly dog at home.