A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 (New American Standard Bible)
One of my most memorable experiences with the wisdom of King Solomon came one day while I was working at a local hospital in the house keeping department. My supervisor assigned a young fellow, new to the job, to me to take around the hospital and acquaint him with things and with what needed to be done on a daily basis. We were chatting as I finished mopping an area of tile floor that went out to the loading dock. As I was wringing out my mop two women from the hospital offices came through as my charge and I continued our friendly conversation. All of a sudden our chat was broken by a loud voice strained with subdued fury. “Hey, you with the mop.” We looked up. One of the women was pointing her finger at me. I remember her friend had lowered her eyes in embarrassment. The lady speaking went on to say to me, “This floor is way too wet. Your carelessness is going to cause someone to slip and get hurt. You need to pay attention and be more careful.” I looked down at the floor and saw it was the normal dampness after having been mopped. As I stared at the floor for those fleeting seconds I was thinking shall I be cheeky or defiant? My mind was going over some really harsh words. What to say, what to say? Then today’s verse came to mind. I looked all around me at the freshly mopped floor and raised my eyes to her. She was just daring me to defy her. I said gently, “Yes ma’am, it is a little wetter than it ought to be isn’t it? I will be more careful in the future. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.” The steam went out of her and her mouth actually dropped open. Her friend’s eyes went wide with surprise too. Not knowing what else to say my antagonist replied, “Well, you just watch what you’re doing or I’ll report you to management.” Having been deprived of ammunition to continue her attack she and her friend hurriedly exited the area. My young apprentice looked at me and said, “Man, I wouldn’t have been that nice. I would have told her where to go.” I told him “I can’t respond with that kind of gentleness and restraint on my own. Only the power and grace of Christ could make me answer like that. That lady could have just been chewed out by her supervisor or had a tiff with her husband this morning and her reaction was just a symptom of her anger and frustration. I just happened to be handy to lay it on.” He looked thoughtful and we continued our training.
I wish I could be consistent in answering with a soft answer all the time, but alas I am not. I’m just glad there really is Power through the Holy Spirit that strengthens me to respond and not react. Knee jerk reactions can eventually cripple our walk with Jesus. Who knows but that lady went home that evening and after considering my response may have said to her family, “I had the strangest encounter today with a guy with a mop.” A soft answer may not be what we want to give in moments of stress and attack, but they really do turn away wrath and in the process demonstrate the greater power of Christ in our lives to those around us.