I could hear my son in the other room. It sounded like he was watching a restricted cartoon on the iPad. I snapped at him, “J! Come here NOW.” I was prepared to scold him for disobeying and sneaking the iPad. I was anticipating taking away iPad privileges for the rest of the evening. My finger was practically already pointing up the stairs to send my son to time-out on his bed to think about his actions. 

He trundled over and stood in front of me, with a very perplexed look on his face. He had heard the impatience and anger in my voice and wasn’t sure what warranted it. I leaned over to see behind him. I saw where he had been sitting at the table with a couple straws that he had turned into “jaws”. He had been playing so happily and wasn’t disobeying in the least. 

And I had ruined it. 

Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). As someone who struggles with anger, this verse is a mantra I am trying to adopt. Having three children ages seven and under gives me plenty of opportunity to practice choosing my words wisely and not acting in anger, though it is a major work in progress. But tonight, I wondered, what if this verse is not just for me to model gentleness and self-control for my children, but also to keep me from making a hasty, incorrect judgment? I was quick to hear, fast to speak, and charging with anger… over a misunderstanding. 

What should I have done differently? How could I have put this verse into practice? 

Quick to hear”: Hearing is not just about taking in noises, but also about comprehending what those noises mean. I was only half listening to what was going on in the other room. I heard noises like my son makes when he is mimicking the restricted cartoon and I assumed he was disobeying. I didn’t listen more intently to hear more clearly what he was doing. I didn’t look into the other room to check on him before reacting. I was quick to take in noise, but not to truly hear what was going on.

Slow to Speak”: I responded almost immediately. I spoke harshly to grab J’s attention so that he would listen and know what I was saying was serious. The tone of my voice told him that he was in trouble and he probably was expecting to sit in time out. I was fast to speak and did not consider how my words or tone would affect him. I just reacted to my poor judgment of the situation.

Slow to anger”: I do not like when my boys disobey me. That fact isn’t the problem. I need to address disobedience and there needs to be consequences for naughty behavior. But too often I am angry at my children for merely being children. I am feeling angry at them because they have inconvenienced me or insulted me or disobeyed me, and not so much because they are disobeying God. My priorities are scrambled and I get angry because my expectations are not being met. But my expectations should be that my children will act like the heathens they are, anything else is progress.

Motherhood has taught me the difference between reacting versus responding. Reacting shows little self-control and is immediate and often harsh. Responding allows time for a pause and a breath. Responding allows the Gentleness of the Holy Spirit to wash over the situation so that you can speak and act in a godly manner. When I react to my children I often stumble into sin myself. Ephesians 4:26-27 warns, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” When I react to my children, I escalate a situation  and hinder the redemptive process. When I live in the Gentleness of the Spirit I am able to respond lovingly to my children and point them to Jesus and their need for Him.

So next time, I hope to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger to minimize misunderstanding and to open communication. I hope to respond in Gentleness to my children so they see an example of Christlikeness and not an example of selfishness and domineering conceit. May my boys feel heard, understood, and hear words of Gentleness in return.

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