A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1 ESV)
Friend to Friend
I have spent a lot of my life trying to be better at standing up for myself.
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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As always, God is right on time to provide the words and wisdom I need. Just last night, I tried to talk to my adult daughter, who still lives with me, about helping around the house. I had every intention to use boundaries and not allow the conversation to turn into an argument. Unfortunately, I walked out of her room and slammed the door, then hung my head in frustration at my actions. I am struggling with her mental illness and trying to help her thrive with gentle guidance to just perform basic life – get a job, clean up after yourself, etc. Please pray for me to set expectations and boundaries and enforce them. Thank you!
I wonder if a little pre planning would be beneficial to you both. For you that you are making it known to your daughter what is required and for her no surprises ir last minute requirements. Likes of Monday. Gently tomorrow Tuesday we could do such and such little each day and it also teaches her to forward plan, responsibility and time management and that way there is no confrontation. Even put daily tasks on the kitchen notice board with prior chat with her how’s best to fit in with her day. Bless you hope it goes well
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”(Proverbs 15:1)
What a great reminder to us all. How many times have we all been in that situation, where you can actually taste the bitterness in your mouth and then the self-loathing that happens after?
After we all saw the “slap seen around the world”; I myself, have thought we all could be in a position of one bad moment that could change the trajectory of our life.
Now, more than ever, I will be mindful of Psalm 19:14″may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you O Lord…” I don’t ever want to be saying angry words to those that I’m in continued prayer over;then, I’ll just ruin and tarnish the light of Jesus.
Michelle….I’m a sister of understanding. I’ll be prayer for you today and please do the same for me.
Kathi I was praying this morning for God to give me wisdom and the right words when I have to have a conversation with my son. It’s very difficult when the other person always turns it on you and makes it fault
Your words rang true in my life. I find it very difficult to speak my heart and stick up for myself. Your words today brought tears to my eyes it was God speaking to me telling me that I can do this. He will be right there with me his Holy Spirit will guide me and give me the words that I need.
I need to trust and believe with all my heart that God will be right there with me.
Oh, did I need this! Thank you. I am facing issues in my church, of all places, with a change in the status of the board of trustees. I am the secretary for another two years, and I have been increasingly alarmed at the new, very conservative, right-leaning people who are pushing to have our church change to become elitist and, sadly, have been pushing against “some people/those people/unChristian people,etc” It is becoming uncomfortable for me to speak up for the things I believe are Christian ways (love one another as I have loved you) and not feel attacked by some of the other members of the board. I do not know how long I will be able to stay on the board or even in the church if this shift continues. I spoke with the outgoing Board Chair and promised to pray about it and “give it time”, and I have been praying, but with a board meeting coming up this week, I find myself anxious and slightly afraid. Pray for me, please. I need to hear Christ’s voice and my anxiety is too loud right now for me to hear. Lord, in Your Mercy, Hear my Plea.
I beg to differ on how to handle the rude mom situation. If you are hosting a dinner to a friend, it sounds like you know her and are aware of her behavior. I would go through with the dinner. Afterwards, I would have a talk with my son about becoming/unbecoming behavior. Let him know it’s not his fault. The friend was not kind with her words, etc. I would also go and talk to the friend in a gentle way so she knows what had transpired. She is likely used to abrupt behavior and probably doesn’t even realize she is being demeaning. As friends, we need to work with one another. Telling her she is not welcomed back is not Christ-like. It’s fine if you don’t want her back, just don’t invite her back. But to tell her she is no longer welcomed because of her behavior makes you sound “holier than thou”. To make things right, it means talking to her in private and letting her know why what she said was hurting, belittling, offending, etc.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV – Therefore encourage one another and build one another up……………
Colossians 3:16 ESV – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
THANK YOU FOR THIS!!!!! You cracked me up when you said have I mentioned that it’s been 30 years lol I am going to be 72 this year and I’m still learning about boundaries. Seriously I needed this today. Thank you so much for your wisdom and allowing God to work through you. Cindy
A wonderful devotional that some of us would rather not think about—–myself being first in line. I know that it pleases our father to keep a gentle tongue. I have a problem with this and I pray for strength a lot. When words start getting heated it is a vicious cycle, but even knowing this, sometimes I fail. I have to keep praying and ingrain it in my head, and heart, that to turn the other cheek or gently say what I feel is not weakness.
Michelle – I know how hard this is. I will pray that you find just the right support for you and your daughter – what a hard season to be in – but I know there is a way through it.
Jeanne – I know how hard it can be to have such strain in a relationship with someone you love so much. Praying you find the right support that you need.
Patricia – I have been through something similar. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Your love for Christ shines through in your comment and I pray you have wisdom and discernment in making your decision.
I don’t think it’s holier than thou to stand up for an innocent child after being warned two times that she was hurting him. I would rather err on the side of my child who cannot defend himself. People who are that unaware of their behavior cannot be around my kids at my invitation. I can go out to coffee with her, I can meet her at church, but no, until there is a change in behavior, she’s not coming around my child or my in my home. But we all get to protect our kids in the way we see fit.
Kathi, this is so timely for a situation my grown daughter is going through. Thank you for taking the everyday situations and showing us how to be Jesus through it all. I love this writing.