Updated: May 16, 2021
A gentle response to an angry or defiant act seems weak and out of place. The Holy Spirit has a different perspective:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1
The Hebrew word for gentle here means the quality of being tender, soft, delicate in substance. This is not exactly the first response that comes to mind when someone you know or your teenager opposes you. There are two natural responses when this happens. Both are equally wrong and destructive.
The first is to fight fire with fire, to let others know you won’t stand for their behavior. The second is to be hurt and withdraw either in fear or humiliation. But the Holy Spirit says to offer a gentle answer. The goal here is to soothe and comfort that listener (see Ephesians 4:29). An angry response only serves to inflict pain and encourage even more upset. This is what is meant by a harsh word stirring up anger.
Once again we see that God’s ways are not our ways.
When your teenager approaches you in anger, the Holy Spirit urges you to respond with the power of gentleness. It is his fruit, his way. It takes great courage to put aside the defensive response of anger or hurt and instead extend the love of Christ to one who, at that moment, is unlovely.
“It’s not right! I never get to do what I want. You think you know everything!”
“No, I don’t know everything. I do know that I have managed provoke your anger. That is not what I want. You know I can’t agree to what you want, but maybe I can understand what I have done to anger you. Will you help me do that?”
“What is this? Some new way to get me to do what you want? No way, I’m not falling for it.”
“The offer is genuine. I should have realized earlier how much doing this meant to you. Help me work through this with you. Let’s talk about how we can make things different.”
“Easy for you to say, you still get to control me and I don’t get anything! Things never change.”
“I don’t want to control you. Let’s work together to avoid what is happening now. I should have come to you sooner instead of telling you no at the last minute. Please forgive me for all of the times that I have been angry with you in the past and for raising my voice at you. I was wrong.”
“Are you really serious?”
“Let me think about it.”
“No problem. I am here to talk whenever you want to.”
Was the immediate issue solved? No. Is the teenager still angry? Yes. But her anger was not increased. There is still work to do. But, in faith and with courage, a new path of reconciliation and restoration is now open because a gentle, soft answer turns away wrath.