Build Up Your Family With “Delightful Words”
WITH each passing minute, David grew more frustrated. Waiting in the car for his wife, he kept checking his watch. By the time Diane, his wife, finally came out of the house, he could not keep his mounting anger from erupting.
“How could you keep me waiting like this?” he shouted. “You’re always late! Why can’t you just once get yourself ready on time?”
Diane was devastated. Bursting into tears, she ran back into the house. In that instant, David realized his blunder. His outburst had only made things worse. What could he do now? He turned off the engine, sighed deeply, and slowly followed her inside.
This illustration presents a realistic scenario, does it not? Have you ever wanted to take back your words? When we speak without thinking, we often say things we later regret. For good reason, the Bible says: “The heart of the righteous one meditates so as to answer.”—Proverbs 15:28.
It can be difficult, though, to think clearly before speaking, particularly when we feel angry, afraid, or hurt. Especially with close family members, any attempt to communicate our feelings can easily deteriorate into blaming or criticizing the other person. That, in turn, may cause hurt feelings or provoke an argument.
What might we do to get more positive results? How can we keep our emotions from getting the better of us? Some helpful advice can be gleaned from the Bible writer Solomon.
Consider What to Say and How to Say It
As Solomon, the writer of the Bible book of Ecclesiastes, penned his sobering exposé on the futility of life, he obviously had strong feelings about his subject. “I hated life,” he said. At one point, he called it the “vanity of vanities.” (Ecclesiastes 2:17; 12:8, footnote) Yet, Ecclesiastes is not a list of Solomon’s frustrations. He did not think it appropriate merely to tell it as it is. In the conclusion of the book, Solomon reveals that he “sought to find the delightful words and the writing of correct words of truth.” (Ecclesiastes 12:10) Another translation says that he “tried to explain these things in the best and most accurate way.”—Contemporary English Version.
Solomon evidently realized that he had to keep his feelings in check. In effect, he kept asking himself: ‘Is what I am planning to say really true or accurate? If I use these words, will others find them delightful, acceptable?’ By searching for “delightful words” of truth, he was able to keep his own feelings from clouding his thoughts.
The result is not only a literary masterpiece but also a wellspring of divinely inspired wisdom on the meaning of life. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) Could Solomon’s approach to discussing an emotionally charged topic help us to communicate better with our loved ones? Consider an example.
Learn to Control Your Feelings
For the sake of illustration, let us say that a boy comes home from school carrying his report card and looking dejected. His father looks down the list of subjects and notices a failing grade in one of the classes. The father immediately gets angry, thinking back to the many times the boy put off doing his homework. The father feels like blurting out: “You’re just lazy! If you keep this up, you won’t amount to anything!”
Before letting negative feelings control his response, the father does well to ask himself, ‘Is what I’m thinking really true or accurate?’ This question can help him to separate his feelings from the facts. (Proverbs 17:27) Is the son really going to be a failure because he is having trouble in one class? Is he characteristically lazy, or is he merely putting off his homework because he is struggling with some of the concepts? The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the value of taking a reasonable, realistic view of matters. (Titus 3:2; James 3:17) To build a child up, a parent needs to speak “correct words of truth.”
Search for the Right Words
Once the father decides what to say, he might ask himself, ‘How could I say it in words that my son would find delightful, acceptable?’ Granted, finding the right words is not easy. But parents need to remember that adolescents often have a tendency toward all-or-nothing thinking. They may take one failure or weakness and exaggerate its importance, so that it begins to define how they see themselves. If a parent overreacts, he may reinforce negative thinking in his child. Colossians 3:21 states: “Do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.”
Words like “always” and “never” usually generalize or exaggerate the facts. When a parent says, “You’ll never amount to anything,” what room is left for the child to keep his dignity? If many situations in life are characterized in such judgmental language, a child may begin to see himself as a total failure. That, of course, is not only discouraging but also untrue.
It is usually far better to accentuate the positive aspects of any situation. The father in our illustration might say something like this: “Son, I can see that you are upset because of your failing grade. I know, though, that you generally work hard at your assignments. So let’s talk about this class and find a way to overcome any problems you might be facing.” To determine how best to help his son, the father might also ask some specific questions to see if there are any underlying problems.
Such a kind and well-thought-out approach is likely to be far more effective than an emotional outburst. “Pleasant sayings,” the Bible assures us, are “sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24) Children—really, all members of the family—thrive in a peaceful, loving environment.
“Out of the Heart’s Abundance”
Think back to the husband mentioned in the scenario at the outset. Would it not have been better if he had taken the time to search for “delightful words” of truth rather than just to blurt out his frustration to his wife? A husband in such a situation would do well to ask himself: ‘Even if my wife needs to work on being more punctual, is it really true that she is always late? Is this the best time to bring this matter up? Will angry, critical words ever motivate her to want to improve?’ Stopping to ask ourselves such questions can help us to avoid unintentionally hurting those we love.—Proverbs 29:11.
What, though, if our family discussions repeatedly end up in an argument? We might need to look below the surface, considering the feelings behind our choice of words. What we say, especially when we are distressed or under pressure, may reveal a lot about what we are really like inside. Jesus said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) In other words, our speech often reflects our innermost thoughts, desires, and attitudes.
Is our outlook on life realistic, optimistic, and hopeful? Then the tone and substance of our conversations will likely reflect that. Do we tend to be rigid, pessimistic, or judgmental? If so, we might discourage others either by what we say or by how we say it. We may not be aware of how negative our thinking or speech has become. We might even believe that our way of looking at things is correct. But we must beware of self-deception.—Proverbs 14:12.
Thankfully, we have God’s Word. The Bible can help us to examine our thoughts and evaluate which ones are correct and which ones need to be adjusted. (Hebrews 4:12; James 1:25) No matter what our genetic predisposition may be or what our upbringing was like, all of us can choose to change how we think and act if we really want to.—Ephesians 4:23, 24.
In addition to using the Bible, we can do something else to evaluate our communication style. Simply ask others. For example, ask your spouse or child to tell you honestly how you are doing in this regard. Talk to a mature friend who knows you well. It will take humility to accept what they have to say and to make any adjustments that may be needed.
Think Before You Speak!
In the final analysis, if we really want to avoid hurting others with our speech, we have to do what Proverbs 16:23 says: “Intelligent [that is, wise] people think before they speak; what they say is then more persuasive.” (Today’s English Version) It may not always be easy to control our feelings. Yet, if we seek to understand others rather than accuse or put them down, then finding the right words to express ourselves may come more easily.
Of course, none of us are perfect. (James 3:2) At times, we all speak thoughtlessly. (Proverbs 12:18) But with the help of God’s Word, we can learn to think before we speak and to put the feelings and interests of others ahead of our own. (Philippians 2:4) Let us be determined to search for “delightful words” of truth, especially when speaking to family members. Then our speech will not hurt and tear down but heal and build up those whom we love.—Romans 14:19.
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How can you avoid saying something you will later regret?