The double-edged sword of a bad decision

At first, I thought someone had turned on a television set somewhere. After all, it’s not normal for people to just start screaming in the middle of a restaurant. But it didn’t last long, so I went back to my hummus and my conversation with my friend across the table. Only moments later, the woman at the other side of the restaurant started screaming again.

From the angle where I was sitting, I couldn’t see her well. But she was pretty much just telling someone to leave her alone. I don’t know who it was. Honestly, I was a little hesitant to look. It went on for a little while until she left, pushing someone out the door with her. Again, I was trying not to pay too close attention.

The only think I could think and say when she left was that somebody was having a really bad day. I’ve had days like that, where I really just wanted to scream at everyone. But does screaming really help?

Shouting womanToday’s verse is Proverbs 9:13.

The woman named Folly is brash.
She is ignorant and doesn’t know it.

As far as I know, there’s no particular reason that Folly (or foolishness) in this passage is personified as female. That’s not a sexist statement. Actually, Wisdom in the verses just before it is also personified as female. Both men and women can be foolish or wise. It has nothing to do with gender.

Now, I didn’t know the woman who was at the restaurant. I’m sure she was having a really hard time, otherwise she wouldn’t have reacted the way she did. But I can tell you the times when I’ve snapped or shouted at someone else because I was having a bad day, it never helped the situation. It usually just made it worse.

In the heat and emotion of the moment, anger makes us feel better. Shouting makes us feel stronger. But it doesn’t actually change anything about us. It really just draws more attention to ourselves.

That’s the double-edge sword of poor choices. When you make your decision, you think you know what you’re doing. But it turns out that you don’t. You just didn’t realize it.

Again, nothing against this poor woman, but I’m pretty sure that blowing a gasket and screaming her lungs out in the middle of a restaurant didn’t end up making her problem go away. I wasn’t privy to the conversation, so I don’t know. Maybe I’m generalizing.

But I know what happens when I react that way. When I’m faced with the option of losing my cool or staying calm, and I lose my cool, I end up hurting people, and I generally make life more difficult for myself.

Life is tough sometimes. And there really are moments when it feels like you just have to scream at someone. But you know what? Maybe it’ll make you feel better for a moment, but that kind of satisfaction is fleeting. And in the process, you’ll run the risk of ruining someone else’s day. Are you really so selfish that you would sabotage someone else’s day just to make yourself feel better for half a second?

That’s not a good trade. It’s not worth it.

Take a deep breath. Get your perspective straight. Sing a song, say a prayer, do something. There are other ways to deal with a bad day or difficult circumstances than going around screaming at people. Do yourself (and everybody around you) a favor and try to think of some. Who knows? You might come up with a solution to your own problem.

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Big brown bear pacing in the sunlight at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

People who trust don’t throw tantrums

Why do people get so upset at each other? Have you noticed that happens a lot? More and more frequently it seems. A part of me understands it. Sometimes it takes harsh words to spur the indolent into action. Sometimes it takes threats to accomplish things when people just don’t care.

But are harsh words and threats really necessary?

I overheard someone losing their temper on the phone (yes, I guess this is the week for me listening into other people’s conversations), but I didn’t have to jump to any conclusions about what was happening. This was just out-and-out temper tantrum. Complete with cursing and whining and guilt trips and accusations.

And all I could think about as I listened to it was, “Thank God I don’t work with the public anymore.” I had more than my fair share of customers like that, the ones who blow up when they don’t get their way, the ones who throw a fit because their unrealistic expectations aren’t met.

In those situations, I’d bust my butt to make them happy. I’d go over and above and beyond and lots of other prepositional superlatives to help them have a pleasant experience. And most of the time, after they got their way, they’d admit to not being upset about it but that they were just playing the role so they wouldn’t have to face consequences for their actions.

And that’s not always the case. From the sounds of this conversation today, it was an unfortunate situation. The person on the phone screaming profanity every other word was the victim in the situation, but let me be the first to tell you from a customer service perspective, it doesn’t matter if you’re the victim or not. You come at me screaming profanity, and I just want you to stop talking.

But it got her what she wanted.

And what’s really sad? I know Christians who behave like this. People who claim to believe in Jesus, who follow Him, who love Him, act like children having a tantrum when they don’t think they’re being treated right.

Big brown bear pacing in the sunlight at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Big brown bear pacing in the sunlight at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:29.

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

I’ve gotten direct with people on the phone before. But I didn’t shout and scream. I didn’t curse and rant.

There’s something about screaming and carrying on that just wears people down. Getting loud with people just makes them want to give you what you want, so I think many people have gotten into the habit of getting loud when they don’t get their way or when they get their feelings hurt.

Just like a child in a toy aisle who doesn’t get what he wants.

But what does that do to you as a person? What kind of person does that turn you into? What kind of message does it send to the people around you? The ones who are unwittingly stuck next to you while you have your screaming, cussing conversation.

I guarantee, if you turn around and start trying to tell me about what church you go to, I’m not going to be interested. If you turn around and start telling me about how you love Jesus, I won’t believe you.

Now am I saying that we should let people walk all over us? No. There’s a time to stand up and be firm. There’s a time to put your foot down and demand justice, what’s fair. But just because you demand it—even if you legally demand it—that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it. So what do you do when you don’t get your way? Do you throw a fit? Do you scream and shout until somebody gives you what you want?

Or do you sit back and let God keep His promises?

Maybe it’s God’s way of reminding you who’s in control. Maybe it’s God’s method of teaching you that your material things don’t matter. Maybe it’s God trying to help you understand that your way isn’t the best way.

If you really trust God, you won’t throw a tantrum. You may not be happy about it, but if you honestly trust Him, your world won’t come crashing down just because you didn’t get your way.

Think about it and consider that the next time things don’t go as planned. Believe me, you might not get your way, but you might change someone’s life.

And you’ll certainly be a more pleasant person to stand next to at the grocery store….

Listening

Verses like the one this morning make me cringe. Actually, most verses out of James make me cringe because so much of what James writes about is what I struggle with. And this morning is one that truly throws me for a loop.

James 1:19

19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

As I was reading this today, I realized something I never saw before. I always considered these three instructions to be individual. As in, we need to make sure that we are good, attentive listeners. We need to make sure we don’t talk too much. We need to make sure we don’t lose our temper. But as I was reading this morning, I started to wonder if instead of individual commands they’re actually connected.

How many times have I sat and listened to someone speak without interrupting them to tell them that they’re wrong and getting angry about it?

Listening is a sign of respect. Listening demonstrates that you love someone else more than you love yourself, that you’re more concerned about what’s going on in their life than you are about what’s happening in yours. Listening is hard. But that’s probably becuase it’s a good thing to do.

So what do you do when you’re listening to someone and they say something wrong? Or they say something offensive? What do you do? Do you jump all over them? Do you interrupt them and tellt hem that they’re wrong?

If we think about these three commands as though they are all connected, what are they saying to do?

Be quick to listen. That means we need to be eager and excited to listen to someone else’s story. But once they get started, let them finish their thought without interrupting them. And then, don’t get angry at them for expressing beliefs or opinions that contradict your beliefs or opinions. Let them finish their thought. Let them have their say. And then — calmly and without anger — explain your position. Explain your beliefs. Explain your opinions. And explain why you feel that way.

I struggle with this enormously, especially if someone is telling me something I have already heard before. If somebody is repeating something I’ve already heard, I usually interrupt them and finish the thought for them. And, honestly, that’s just rude. I should care more about the people who are talking to me than I do about what they’re telling me. So what if I heard it before? I shouldn’t be in such a hurry that hearing it again bothers me.

I am always quick to listen, but I’m not always slow to speak. And that’s something I need to work on.