I was wrong.
Yesterday I got a disturbing phone call from a family member, we'll call her Lynne. She was upset and crying because another family member had said some very hurtful things to her. Things that implied she would be alone forever, that no one loved her. The other person hinted that the family talked about Lynne behind her back, that Lynne was a poor mother, that her children were ill behaved. The other person even went so far as to suggest Lynne needs psychiatric help, and to get on some medication, stating that she should have gotten over her Husband's death by now.
Needless to say, Lynne was hurt. She lost her husband 4 years ago, and has been raising her children alone. She has struggled mightily with the sadness and heartache that is natural when losing your soul mate forever. These words spoken from a trusted, loved, companion and family member cut her in a number of areas that were already raw.
I make no guesses as to what possessed this person to lash out against Lynne. I'm sure in their mind the words were justified- even neccessary. But I begin to think of the nature of such verbal lashes, and how counter productive they often are. Matthew 18:15 says, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." This sentiment of speaking directly to a person about something that troubles you is spot on. I believe whole heartedly that going directly to the source of your complaint is always the best way to approach things. Speaking to a person about your concerns, however, is NOT the same as hurling hurtful words and biting accusations at them.
Instead, the wisdom of God instructs us to be kind in our words, so that they may please God. Proverbs 16:24 states "Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body." In addition, James 3:9-12 states:
"9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water."
So a person who would strive to praise God should not soil their mouth with curses on human beings. A dialogue, I believe, is a much better means of communication.
This reflection has made me consider how I would like to go about these sorts of discussions. When feeling upset with someone, I will strive to keep my voice low and calm. Choose words that are accurate- not exaggerated and biting. I also find that writing down my grievances beforehand allows me to concisely state my point, without gumming up my message with tiny, irrelevant complaints.
For example, when I am upset with my husband or a friend, I try to state what I am upset about. "I would like you to spend some time with me." instead of piling on a list of lesser violations and harbored resentment, "You spend all your time on the computer, you never pick up your clothes I hate that stupid game you're playing and I haven't even SEEN YOU for days!"
While I know that all of us (myself included) have uttered words in anger that are hurtful- I'm taking time today to reflect on those choices, and what I might do to prevent hurting people the way this family member has hurt Lynne.
What To Do for Yourself
I did what I could to console Lynne. It is hurtful to me to see her so upset over something that could have been so easily avoided. (Notice how those hurtful words have spread to affect me as well. They are powerful things.) It is difficult to console someone about words that you didn't say. I can't take them back, or ask for forgivness because I didn't say them. All I can do is help to remind Lynne that those things aren't true. That she IS loved, that she is not now and will not die alone.
So what can we do when we are hurt by words? My first instinct is usually to bite back. To think up some horrible, damaging things to say to whomever has hurt me. Sometimes I think I'll go on Facebook and say it so everyone else can see too. This sort of behavior doesn't help. Neither does avoiding the person, or gossiping to others about what they said and how mean they were. The only effective thing to do is be graceful.
I urged Lynne to be kind to this person. I told her to assume there is more going on than we know. To assume that this person is going through something, and these emotions are a cry for help. I suggested she try and leave the anger behind, to forgive this person and see them with love. As for the hurt feelings, Lynne will just have to work through them. I think talking about it helped, and hopefully time will make them sting less as well.
You know, its not always who you want to be. This situation has reminded me of just who I DON'T want to be.