A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1 ESV)
Friend to Friend
In many ways, I have a “let’s just get along” personality. One of my core desires is to not have anyone else be mad at me. Ever.
I’m the girl who spent thirty years first trying to have boundaries, and then trying to enforce them.
I always thought boundaries meant I expected a higher level of behavior from people I was in relationship with.
What I’m finally understanding (did I mention it’s been thirty years?) is that I don’t need to be loud or demanding to have healthy boundaries. I don’t need to determine how other people behave around me. I just need to pre-decide how I will react when other people behave badly.
Many years ago, my kids and I hosted dinner for another family. The mom of the other family was being sarcastic with my then 12-year-old son, Justen. It started out as playful teasing, but then turned into pointed jabs. Being new to having boundaries (and a confirmed people pleaser) I asked this other mom, Jackie, to please be more careful with her words.
For a moment, Jackie calmed down. But a few minutes later, she was back at it, harassing my son.
My instinct was to start yelling at Jackie and tell her how she was behaving like a monster. Instead, I asked again.
And again, nothing changed.
I felt stuck. Since we were at our house, I couldn’t just leave. I thought, in order to be a good follower of Christ, I needed to swallow my thoughts about her behavior and wait for them to go home.
I now know that tolerating abuse towards anyone is not the way that Christ would want us to live.
Today, my response would be different. I would take my son upstairs, put his favorite show on, and join him with a plate of dinner and explain to Jackie that because she was continuing to harass my son, she and her family could see themselves out.
My job is not to control anyone else’s behavior, but to clearly state what I will and will not tolerate. Setting healthy boundaries means being clear about what I will and will not allow in my presence when someone is being unkind or unfair to someone who has less power than they do.
I’ve gone from believing I should say nothing, to believing that I needed to enforce boundaries loudly, to finally understanding that I don’t have to either receive the abuse, nor do I need to make a scene.
My response can be one that God calls us to: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1, ESV). A soft answer to Jackie might have been, “I told you that if you continued to talk to me or my child in that manner, we will have to remove ourselves from the room.” No anger, no escalation. Just a statement of fact and intention.
Now, when I am going into a situation that will push my boundaries, I pray for wisdom and ask the Holy Spirit to determine my words and actions. I pray I don’t needlessly escalate an already difficult situation. I pray for the ability to take responsibility for my own actions, and not to try to control anyone else’s.
A soft answer does not mean weakness. A soft answer means knowing in our spirit when it’s time to rise up and knowing when to walk away.
Have you recently had an opportunity to set or enforce a boundary? How did you handle it?
Dear Lord, I pray You will be so near to me in times of stress and pain. Please help me to know when to stand up and when to turn away. Let my desire always be to not avoid conflict, but to live out the peace You provide for Your people.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Now It’s Your Turn
What is one current boundary you can pre-decide what your “soft answer” will be? Will it be to gently explain your boundary, or to simply remove yourself from that situation?
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