I started re-reading C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” this week because I need a reminder of the subtle ways we, Christians, can tear each other apart, almost without knowing it.
I’ve been thinking heavily about this passage lately:
In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face. To keep this game up you … must see to it that each … has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention.
Sometimes I forget how easily a tone can change a conversation, and I wonder if the way I say something often makes it difficult for the other person to actually hear what I’m saying. And vice versa.
One afternoon this week, I walked into the house with an armload of groceries. Everyone else in the house was napping. Until I walked in. The first words out of my husband’s mouth were “I need to teach you how to enter a house.” His tone wasn’t cruel, but I sensed some annoyance, because the door slammed behind me and everyone woke up. My reaction was less than cordial and for a few minutes, until I realized how childish I was being, I sulked around the house and began compiling my mental list of grievances against my husband. All because of how I interpreted his tone. All he was really saying was that I could have entered the house more quietly, and he was willing to demonstrate. I blew it out of proportion.
Maybe this is why Scripture tells us: Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)
And: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
I’m hoping to be a better listener, tuning out a person’s tone to get to the heart of what they’re saying. I’m not sure it’s easy, but I’m willing to try.