“Woe to those who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter…” Isaiah 5.20
Pretty or not, sweet words can still pack a punch.
While my husband was gone, I volunteered to lead youth group. This meant around five o’clock on Thursdays, while everyone was heading home for dinner, I was piling the three littles in the the car and making a dash for Taco Bell (don’t judge me…vegetarian bean burritos leave me with some redemptive quality).
After pasting the roofs of their mouths to their tongues with a concoction of refried beans and gooey tortillas shells, I escorted them to the upper room of the youth building and put on a movie.
All was great, until my daughter remembered she
can’t handle being separated from me was missing all the fun.
There was a spiral (metal) staircase which she loved to
stomp, clang, and jump off of walk up and down just to remind me she was there. She’s always reminding me that she’s there letting me know she loves me and needs love. When I’m cooking, she’s beneath my feet. Once, while I was working out, she managed to wedge her head behind my buttox at the exact moment I leaned backwards for a kick. We fell in a heap on the living room floor. If I compliment a child on a job well done, she’s making her case for how awesome she is, too. If I’m in the shower, she’s drawing pictures in the steam on the door.
She needs my affirmation, my full attention, and just a general assurance that I haven’t forgotten about her.
That Thursday, I listened to her
bang play music on the stairs until I could stand it no more thought her song was over. “Tseganesh, gorgeous! Now, I don’t want to see your beautiful face for the rest of the evening,” I announced.
If I sugar-coat the frustration, it lessens the blow, right?
Sugar coat my frustration? Edit and cross out what I really mean, replacing the words for some a little softer. Not words which are more genuine or authentic, but words with the appearance of kindness.
The girls at youth that night totally called me out on it, and left me wondering: Just how passive aggressive am I?
Am I the only one swallowing this sweet-and sour morsel of communication? If so, why am I still peddling the goods? Why can’t I just stop and say what I mean?
I was taught that if I couldn’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all–but this stifles the authentic voice. What happens when I have genuine grievances with someone or something? I stuff them, deep inside while in public, then, when I am finally home I air my frustrations.
Nothing is solved this way. It is a false form of peace-keeping.
And I am the fool who once believed people bought into it.
A couple years ago, I wanted to teach a study at the church my husband had just begun pastoring. I mentioned it to the women’s coordinator, and she agreed. A couple weeks later, she had picked and ordered one of the study choices I had mentioned. Then she mentioned co-teaching.
In my unspoken thoughts I was screaming, “Please, just let me do this! I really need to find my niche here and get to know everyone and this could be the way.”
What I said was, “Great! I would love to co-teach with you. Have you ever taught before? No? Awesome, I can give you some guidance along the way!”
I went home that evening and stewed over my inability to break into a role “of my own” at this new church and in the morning, childishly wrote an email that said something to the effect of, “There’s no need to have two goalies on the same team; I’ll just let you teach and will attend your class. If you need me, let me know.”
And then I proceeded to withdraw from this woman as a friend; I would smile, hug, and chat face-to-face, but in the evening I would wrestle with resentment and a sense of feeling threatened by her strong presence in a place I desperately wanted to belong. I was jealous–I wanted her role without any of the hard work or responsibility.
My final email to her was so pointed in it’s dialogue, that the discrepancy between our face-to-face time and our electronic communication was finally visible to all. She and her husband left the church and I was relieved.
Until over a year later when I had to face the music. First, I had hurt her deeply. Second, no one is eating my sugar-coated aggression. I need to learn to say what I mean. But before I can do that in a way that honors God, I must learn to think in a way that reflects Him–love first.
This renewed thinking is rooted in Leviticus, and again in Jesus’ teachings. We must love others as we love ourselves–because let’s face it, some of us have no problems loving self. It’s truly others that stand in the way of perfection (sarcasm isn’t the same as passive aggression).
James says clearly that most of our conflict comes from selfish envy and jealous desire. When passive aggression is my language of communication, I am focused on what I wanted from the situation instead of trying to understand the other person’s motives or needs.
If I am going to love others, I have to get over myself. I need to see those who cause me the most inner-conflict through such a lens that peels back the layers and exposes the beautiful image of God within them.
It’s time to say good-bye. It’s not you, it’s me. And I think you’d find more success somewhere else. I really hate to hold you back, and want to give you freedom to reign. Somewhere else. So if you don’t mind, I never want to see your beautiful face again.
Your closest friend,
Sugar-coated words? Everyone knows they rot the teeth.