The fifteenth chapter of Proverbs starts out with these words of wisdom: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” Another passage admonishes us not to let the sun go down on our wrath.
How often must I learn this lesson? I know these things—not just in my mind, but deep down in my heart. I know and agree with this wisdom, but . . .
Even the world knows these things. Castle, a television program that is not at all Christian, presented this same lesson in one of its episodes.
Richard Castle is a bestselling crime novelist who works with Kate Beckett, an NYC homicide detective. In this episode, he incurs her wrath by sticking his nose into an area of her personal life she has told him to leave alone. When she confronts him, he begins justifying himself, and she ends up telling him their partnership is over and he’s no longer welcome at the station.
His teenage daughter, talking about a boy who has done her wrong, asks why guys always try to justify themselves instead of just apologizing, which gets him thinking about what happened with Beckett. This is exactly what he did to her.
He goes back to the station and is confronted by her hostility. Before they have a chance to get into it all over again, he tells her that he doesn’t want to leave under those circumstances. If they are never going to see each other again, he wants her last memory of him to be an apology, which he issues powerfully without expecting anything from her in return. As he turns to leave the station, she calls to him and says, “See you tomorrow?”
A part of human nature is to want to be right and for everyone else involved to acknowledge that we’re right. But if you and I both think we are right about opposing stands, how is this demand for acknowledgment going to work? I know I’m right, and I want you to admit it, but you know you’re right and want me to admit that. A chess player would say “stalemate”—an unbreakable draw.
My first wife and I did this often, which is a large part of why we’re exes. At some point along the way, I learned this lesson, and Sharon and I committed to each other that we would not go to sleep at night mad at each other.
Living up to that is not so difficult. If I value our relationship more than I value always proving I’m right, it becomes easy just to apologize. When I do, she usually will apologize to me also. If not, she will at least accept my apology, throwing water on the fire that was beginning to build between us.
Last night I got carried away with my righteousness, or rightness, and kept raising my voice in an effort to get her to see that I was right and she was wrong. The net result was that for the first time in our 21 years of marriage we went to sleep mad at each other.
How important was the issue involved? Almost inconsequential, which seems to be the case with a lot of marital spats. How could being right about this possibly be more important than upholding our relationship?
When I went in to wake her up this morning, I started with an apology, and she gave an immediate positive response. All is now okay, but it took me a long time to get to sleep last night, thinking about how I’d mishandled that situation.
Which one of us was right? Which one was the aggrieved party? Who cares? That’s the whole point—who cares? Being reconciled rather than angry at each other is MUCH more important than being proven right.
Having relearned this lesson once again, I hope I don’t soon forget it.
How do you handle it when you and your spouse—or even you and a good friend—get crossways with each other? How do you reconcile—or avoid the need for reconciliation?
If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
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