By Jessica Brodie
One of the things I love best about my husband is his sense of fun. I can be way too serious-minded, yet he always manages to make me laugh, and he’s constantly chasing after the kids like a puppy, tickling them or wrestling with them. Our house is filled with giggles.
Sometimes, however, our kids get highly irritated with this. Three out of four of them are teenagers now, and there are times the games go too far and they lash out or stalk off.
“Stop!” they roar, tired of the fun.
“‘Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger … .’” I teased my hubby once, playing on the apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:4.
“I don’t think that’s exactly the context,” he teased back.
He’s right, of course. Paul was talking about parents who antagonize their kids with unfair and cruel behavior, verbally bashing them or showing favoritism, riling up their anger in unhealthy ways so they lose self-control and inch toward sin. Instead, parents should build up their children, encourage them and teach them well.
Antagonism and cruelty are decidedly not what’s going on in my house, thankfully. But there’s plenty of it going on in our culture, isn’t there?
Our nation is divided politically and in many other ways. We feel freer and freer to spout our own opinions on social media, in opinion columns, in gatherings of friend groups, and conveniently forget that our views are not the majority. There isn’t really a “majority.”
Indeed, Gallup polling found in December that 31 percent of Americans identified as Democrats, 25 percent identified as Republican and 41 percent as Independent. And that’s just political parties—what about the other issues we might differ about? From gay clergy to gun control to public education to vaccines, we’re all over the place. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think we as a society need to consider a more delicate touch when it comes to dialogue.
This doesn’t mean we cannot have our own opinions or express them. But just as Paul warned parents in the early church not to provoke their children to anger, we can take a cue from that today in how we dialogue with each other.
When we use heated, inflammatory words designed to build up one “side,” let’s remember there are a whole bunch of people feeling provoked—perhaps to anger. Perhaps to unhealthy, sinful anger.
It’s time to stop ignoring or disregarding views not in line with our own, writing them off as if they belong to “them” or “those people.” We are all the body of Christ, and words can hurt. Let’s be careful and tone down the provoking.