The conversation was typical. It included the usual questions about school. Before long, my daughter was screaming at me and told me to shut up. Then she retreated to the solitude of her bedroom. The outburst was completely unexpected and out of character. I was stunned and hurt. I couldn’t figure out how our usual conversation had deteriorated so quickly.
My first impulse was to follow her to the bedroom and call her out for her lack of respect. She’d been disrespectful and I didn’t like her behavior. But then I remembered Molly and I knew my daughter needed more than my anger.
I was a teenager when Dad brought home Molly and Gabe — two beautiful purebred collies. They were beautiful dogs and we immediately loved them. They were gentle and patient. They never got rough or annoyed, no matter how much hugging, petting, brushing, and playing they were subjected to.
One day I was backing out of the yard to go to work. I hadn’t gone far when I felt a sickening thunk. I got out of the car to see Molly yelping and dragging herself away from the back tires as I screamed for help and sobbed at what I'd done.
I still cry when I think of that day. Molly was seriously injured. She could barely move. My 13-year-old brother, Bruce, came running to help her. He carefully and tenderly picked her up in his arms. Molly, suffering and in pain, lashed out and bit Bruce as he carefully carried her to her bed. He didn't drop her or get angry with her. He continued to speak to her with soft and soothing words. He gently laid her on her bed and then, without even acknowledging his own injury, he stroked her head and calmed her.
Molly died a few minutes later. While we cried, Mom took care of Bruce's injuries. Molly’s pain had caused her to do something that wasn’t typically her nature. It had caused her to fight against Bruce and hurt him.
Sometimes it’s difficult to make sense of our feelings. We cry when we're sad, but we also cry when we're happy and even sometimes when we're angry. Sometimes we lash out in anger, but sometimes we lash out in pain. Sometimes our hearts ache with love and longing and sometimes they ache with sadness or hurt.
When my daughter lashed out at me, she wasn’t really angry. She was hurt, and once we sat down and talked it over, with love and patience and tears, she told me of the painful and difficult things she was dealing with. She wasn't angry with me. She was in pain.
Think how much better things would be if we always reacted calmly and kindly and with love, getting to the bottom of the hurt or the stress or difficulty that is causing someone to act badly toward us. I know I’m too often guilty of jumping into the fray and making a bad situation worse. When we do that we’re piling more pain onto the person who is already suffering. I try to use the example of Bruce and Molly as my guide. How awful would it have been if Bruce had dropped Molly’s broken body when she bit him or yelled at her in retaliation as she lay there dying.
We rarely go wrong when we respond with kindness and love. How do we do that?
Lower your voice. It's human nature to want to respond to harshness with harshness. While it may be a way to release the emotions of hurt feelings or defensiveness, it rarely improves the situation and usually makes it worse. No matter how hard it is, keep your voice at a conversational level. Remember the Biblical counsel found in Proverbs 15:1. "A soft voice turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
Take a break from the situation. Some suggest counting to 10 to calm yourself, but maybe 10 isn't enough. Separate yourself from the situation for as long as it takes to be able to act with love and not anger.
Pray. Ask God for guidance. He understands not only the hurt of the one lashing out but also the pain of the one who has been the victim of that lashing. Let Him guide you in how best to respond. He can direct us so we are able to respond with love.
Ask questions. Once we can communicate with love and kindness, ask questions. Most of us can't read minds. When we ask loving, honest questions, we can better understand the feelings that prompted the outburst. Often, they have nothing to do with us or the immediate circumstances. When we understand the load our loved one carries, we can help carry that burden and ease that pain.
Think about the big picture. Too often we fight about things that are fleeting and that won't matter in a week. They might not even matter in 10 minutes. Remember that our loving relationships are much more important than our immediate circumstances. Make sure our actions reflect the value of those relationships.