Revelations: Encouraging words are preferable

Jennifer Preyss

Earlier this week, I was sitting outside enjoying the delightful weather, when a man in a truck starting honking his horn behind me. Startled, I turned around and saw the man aggressively yelling something from inside the vehicle and flailing his arms wildly.

He was seemingly waiting for someone to join him in the truck, and they were taking too long.

So, I attempted to block out the noise and enjoy the pleasant weather. The man proceeded to honk his horn - long blasts, followed by an angry (muted) verbal outburst.

I kept thinking, "Wouldn't it be much more effective to get out of the car, go inside and calmly tell the person who's keeping you waiting to hurry up? Is honking your horn, making a fool of yourself in public and disturbing the people around you really going to hurry this person along?"

A few minutes later, a small boy, probably about 9 years old, walked out to the truck, sheepishly opened the door and strapped himself in the back seat.

The man began flailing his arms again, yelling at the child as he sped away.

An agitated sadness filled my heart as I watched the truck grow smaller in the distance. I knew then, the boy in the truck would likely endure years of verbal abuse for petty things like taking too long to walk home from school, or leaving the milk out, or spilling ketchup on the carpet, unintentionally. He would likely grow up with a male role model who couldn't control his temper long enough to teach the child the difference between appropriate and inappropriate anger.

I suppose I sympathized with the boy because I grew up with parents (whom I love dearly) who had trouble controlling their anger.

Even though they've made tremendous strides managing their anger in the past five years (a change they both credit the Lord for), living most of my life with hot-tempered parents definitely took a toll on my emotional health.

Since I learned as a child that anger is an appropriate reaction to everything, when I grew into my teen years, it seemed anything and everything warranted an angry outburst. Little things, big things, it was all the same to me.

Until I was about 19 years old, I believed normal, everyday communication with others involved raised tones, aggressive speech (sometimes screaming), profanity and the occasional exchange of below-the-belt insults.

My understanding of problem solving: Scream louder and more aggressively until someone relents. Effective, right?

But something happened when I went to college. I was no longer living with argument-ready parents and siblings. There was, for the first time in my life, a peaceful calm in my mind.

If I left the milk out, I'd put it back. Or if I spilled ketchup on the carpet, I'd clean it up.

No insults to shrug off, no sharp comments to respond to. I realized it was just a silly accident. No harm, no foul.

So, I spent the early years of my 20s, re-learning rational and reasonable reactions to every day blunders. I was able to separate for the first time, what warranted an angry response, and what didn't.

And when I became a Christian a few years later, God continued teaching me about dealing with anger, and gave me tools to deal with my frustrations.

I'm not sure I was aware then, but I know now, I was being transformed. Not only did the Lord hold me responsible for my sharp tongue with others, he taught me to use my mouth for lifting up those around me. Suddenly, I was acutely aware that my words had the power to encourage and change, and similarly, the ability to destroy and defile.

And because I never wanted to be responsible for destroying someone's spirit, I started honoring God with my words. Simple, right?

After years of practice, I honestly try to live Ephesians 4:29 every day. That doesn't mean I never get angry. It just means when I do get angry, I try to reasonably and prayerfully contemplate the best way to deal with it.

Perhaps the man in the truck was having a bad day, and perhaps the way he screamed at his child that day was unusual behavior.

But whether it's one time, or every day, we should be aware of our words and what we're using them for. More importantly, we should reflect on how God would want us to use our words and whether our speech is honoring him.

It's the simple things, I've learned, that has the ability to change lives. Who knew changing lives could start with an encouraging tongue?

Jennifer Preyss is a re porter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jlpreyss@vicad.com.