It started happening about a year ago: small print growing fuzzy, arms extending to make the letters readable. Without warning, it seems I’ve crossed an invisible line and inadvertently joined millions of other farsighted people in their late thirties and early forties. My eye doctor says it’s not time yet for reading glasses, so for now, I just stretch my neck back and extend the arms, happy that a little distance usually clears things up.
Not long ago, I found myself pulled into a conversation that caught me off guard and left me feeling defensive and confused. As I worked through my tangled thoughts, asking God to help me sort it all out, and after sleeping on it, I realized that just like extending the arm, a little time and distance in real life often helps to clear things up a bit. We’ve heard that time heals all wounds, and while I can’t fully subscribe to this notion, I do think that time gives us perspective, which can be healing.
In the early years of our marriage my husband and I had an on-going disagreement, and ironically it had to do with the way we resolved conflicts. We were familiar with Ephesians 4:27 which says not to let the sun go down on your anger. We had heard many sermons on this verse, and I pulled this scripture out every time we had a nocturnal argument. Usually after arguing and getting nowhere, Bernie would announce that he was going to bed. I would protest, telling him that I couldn’t possibly sleep when we were so upset with each other. In response, he would roll over and cruise on into dreamland, and I would lay sleepless in bed, seething, making up all kinds of stories about my heartless husband. And believe me, Bernie would always hear about it the next morning, but he was right about one thing: we were usually able to figure things out after he got a good night’s sleep.
One day Bernie came to me and said, “Hey – check out this verse. I’ve never seen it before, but I think it’s a good one.” Psalm 4:4: “Don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.” (NLT)
Huh. It may seem like this verse contradicts the verse from Ephesians, but I think that instead of an “either/or,” this is a “both/and.” Wisdom and maturity says, “Don’t hold on to your anger. Be quick to forgive. AND don’t just react and say whatever comes to mind. Stop talking and take some time to think about your response. “James 1:19 brings both concepts together with very simple (though not easy) advice: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
For me, this has meant taking the time to ask myself questions like, “What is this about for me? Why am I feeling defensive? What is getting triggered inside of me? Is there room in my thinking for the possibility that I may not be 100% right in the way I’m seeing things? Is there room for empathy? Am I seeking first to understand the other person’s point of view?”
Sometimes, after taking time to think things over, I realize there is still a conversation that needs to happen. Sometimes I have to accept that no amount of conversing will bring resolution. And many times I am able to let things go. I’m not talking about sweeping things under the rug, or stuffing my feelings. I’m talking about letting go of resentment and walking in freedom.
Empathy can lead us to understanding, and that can help us to let go. In the conversation I mentioned earlier, I was able to empathize and understand that the person talking with me was sharing a personal experience, was passionate about the topic, and had good intentions. It wasn’t really about me. That was enough to help me loosen my grip and let it go.
I still have trouble falling asleep during a disagreement, but I’m getting better at the both/and. I now try to say, “I am really upset, but I agree that we can figure this out tomorrow. But I still love you, and I know you love me.” Sometimes I read a little to take my mind off things, until my eyes (and my extended arms) get tired.