Without question the most frequent times I have spoken and regretted it have been when I was angry. Sadly, the vast majority of these times have been with my family. Heated words hurt people and cause them to pull away from us emotionally.
Personally, I don’t like to be around people that are easily angered. The environment becomes tense and all joy and peace is drained away immediately. If I feel that way when I am with an angry person talking, then I certainly don’t want to do that to others, especially my family.
Someone wisely noted, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret”. Even if our position is correct, if our disposition is wrong the truth will not be received. People remember our disposition easier and longer than our position on a subject.
The Bible has instructions on our speech and our anger – “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20) God doesn’t stutter. Read the verse again….slowly…..and let it sink into your heart.
Note the association in the Scripture about our being “slow to speak” and “slow to wrath”. As a snowball going downhill gathers speed and grows bigger so our words tend to become more heated the more we become entangled in a contentious conversation. And the sure result soon after is regret over what should not have been said.
An angry man “worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). That simply means he is not reflecting the heart of God when he is angry and that he is not right with God. These are solemn matters for us to consider!
Some of the most damaging things ever done to a person have been when they were the recipient of the words from an angry parent or an angry spouse. They remember them, every word, sometimes for a lifetime.
Anger causes us to lose our self control and we spout words that are designed to hurt, often exaggerated. (One of Paula’s teachers in college, Mrs. Joy Martin, cautioned those in her class to be careful about using “always” and “never” in times of confrontation. “You always come home late”…..”You never have supper on time”. They are typically dredged up when we are angry and only cause the other person to become defensive and withdraw even more).
Later on, when we have had time to think about what we said with a cooler head we wish we would have kept our mouth shut. But it’s too late. A heart has been wounded and, too often, it belongs to someone we love dearly – a husband or wife, son or daughter, or parents.
When I was in college I was in the business office one day at the very end of the semester and it was packed with students. There were about five lines ten to twelve deep with people waiting to be helped.
I had been there earlier that afternoon and had a meeting with a very high ranking officer of the university concerning a mistake the school had made on my transcript. He wouldn’t budge on the issue, but I knew that I was right on the matter and went to the Chancellor pf the university and made an appeal.
He listened to my situation, corroborated the facts, and made a phone call to the person I had met with earlier that had denied me my request. (To be honest, he was simply spouting policy that was totally unrelated to my case. He wasn’t listening unconcerned that the school had made a mistake and refused to deal with it). The Chancellor instructed him on the phone to take care of my situation and that he was siding with me because of the facts and the failure of the school to care properly for the matter.
I returned to the business office (remember it was packed) and I finally got to the front of the line and gave my name to a lady that I had an appointment with this school official with whom I had met several hours earlier. I was calm and relaxed, grateful that things had been worked out and that he was going to take care of the issue. At least, that is what I thought.
I waited and waited, perhaps fifteen minutes before the official finally appeared. Immediately I knew something was wrong. His face was red, his eyes were bulging, he looked like he was about to have a stroke. He came up to the counter across from me and began to berate me, literally screaming that he didn’t appreciate what I had done.
I was stunned! The words kept coming, hot and acidic, very angry and intended to put me in my place – and to hurt me. I wanted to just disappear because of the embarrassment I felt being dressed down in front of fellow students.
I didn’t respond to him, not a word. (I was afraid to!) Finally, the man abruptly turned and walked hurriedly back to his office. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around and a male student I didn’t even know looked at me and said, “You did good; you did real good not to respond back”.
I just nodded and wondered what to do. The Chancellor had sent me there and if I left I felt I was going to be in more trouble. So I stayed, eyes cast down and very near tears. Finally, after another few minutes, a side door opened and a secretary called me back to the man’s office that had just minutes before exploded with anger at me.
When I walked in he was seated behind his desk, his face still red and contorted, visibly shaking physically. (I remember thinking, “Here we go again; round two. This isn’t worth it. I’m getting out of here. This guy is crazy!”)
He locked eyes with me and told me he would do what the Chancellor had asked of him and began to lecture me on how wrong I was to go “over his head”. Later as I thought about everything it all came together to me. He was angry because he felt disrespected. It never occurred to him that I had merit in what I was saying to him because he wasn’t listening; he was consumed with quoting policy (that didn’t cover my situation) and was not used to being corrected.
Perhaps he thought his reputation had been affected though absolutely no one else knew about my meeting with the Chancellor and no one knew about his call to this man. It was personal and private, and I still believe, the appropriate thing for me to do.
Here is the irony: word got out about his tirade. A few hours later the secretary of the Chancellor had heard about how I had been treated and called me to her office. I tried to soft-pedal the incident, but she knew the details. She told me this man had a reputation for being angry and speaking quickly off-the-cuff and hurting people. She apologized for him.
Here’s the takeaway from this story – as far as I know, no one in that waiting area in the business office of 50-60 people knew me, but they all knew this man. He was one of the key leaders in the school. And I would dare say that almost all of them remember his outburst to this day.
He lost his testimony that day – and he didn’t need to. Whether he agreed with the Chancellor’s decision or not, his inability to be quiet when he was angry brought him shame and tagged him being remembered by others in a negative way – almost a third of a century later!
The Bible says, “He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly…” (Proverbs 14:17) Most often, our foolishness is manifested in our words. Oh, God help us to be quiet when our passions are stirred and we are angry. It isn’t worth it.
Sophocles said, “The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves” Listen to what Susan Marcotte wrote, “Anger helps straighten out a problem as much as a fan helps straighten out a pile of papers”.
The worst damage we do with our words though is not in a business office, but in our homes to those we love the very most.
Though I don’t typically carry my feelings on my sleeves and am not characteristically an angry man, there have been enough times where I know my words have deeply cut into the hearts of my wife and children. I have seen it in their faces.
For me it is usually sarcasm where I need to be quiet. I need to be quiet when I want to lecture rather than simply listen and reflect. It hurts to even write this, but maybe it will help someone to be honest and confront their own words when they are upset.
One thing I did get right. I purposed to never discipline my children when I was angry. In fact, there were a number of times when I told them, “You need to go to your room and I’ll deal with you later. I’m angry right now and I can’t talk about it”. I knew that angry discipline didn’t work and so I avoided it. But I was too free with my words sometimes and I’m sorry about that.
Even Moses, the meekest man on the earth, struggled with anger as he led the nation of Israel through the wilderness (a tough job!). When he expressed his anger he said things he wished he hadn’t later on.
“They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.” (Psalm 106:32-33) Note that when his spirit was provoked that he “spake unadvisedly”. The word means to “babble in anger”. It has the idea of uncontrolled speech from a spirit of anger.
“Often the difference between a successful marriage and a mediocre one consists of leaving about three or four things a day unsaid”, wrote Harlan Miller. I think that some of those “unsaid things” are times when we are angry and ought to be quiet.
Have you ever said to someone, “I want to take those words back”, after you had ripped them? Of course, the problem is that you can’t. They are engraved on the hard drive of the mind of your child, spouse, or sibling forever.
Years ago I was talking with two fine young men and they began to complain about their father. They expressed to me their hesitance to be around him and they felt bad about it because they loved him and knew they should want to spend time with him, but they didn’t enjoy it.
I asked them what the problem was and they said, “He’s just like grandpa (their father’s father). He’s angry, cynical and negative all the time. We know what we are going to hear before we walk in the door to the house”.
Their comments caused me to stop and take account of my attitude, my words and my influence. What would my children say about me one day? What are they saying right now?
What will your children say about you one day? What are they saying right now? May God help us to be quiet when we are angry.