It was the same song, fifty-second verse on that late winter day in 2009: One of my precious cherubs said something to rile up his sibling — to push her buttons and make her holler. Literally. Her response, quite predictably, would only serve to egg him on further. I let it go for little while, knowing that part of good parenting meant not jumping in the middle of every little squabble. Often, these scraps would de-escalate and five minutes later they’d be playing again.
That was not the case here.
Nor had it been the case for a while. More and more frequently, I noticed my older child “stirring the pot” to the point that his sibling’s feelings genuinely got hurt, and I worried about what would be next. I care deeply about the relationships between the people under my roof; I’m not willing to sweep something under the rug and hope it just resolves itself. I prefer to charge right through the tension and deal with the thing before it grows into something worse.
So, on that particular day when all was going haywire, I called the offender into the dining room with me. I told him that we, as a family, must be a safe harbor for every one of its members, and any kind of bullying was unacceptable. He attempted to deflect from his own behavior with a “But! She . . . ” and I put my hand up and told him, “Hey, we’re addressing your behavior right now, not hers.”
To further make my point, I employed an idea I’d read somewhere. Standing all the way up on a dining room chair, I raised my right hand over the tabletop. In that hand, I held a raw egg. Once my child locked his eyes on the egg, I let go of it. The egg dropped, cracked, and its contents splattered from one end of the long oak slab to the other.
Stepping down off the chair, I took a seat and patted the chair next to me, encouraging my child to do the same. “Listen,” I said. “I understand siblings are going to tease and argue, but your words and actions have crossed over into mean spiritedness. If you keep this up, you’re in danger of cracking your sister’s heart like this egg here. Next time you’re tempted to be ugly to her, you imagine her heart as this egg. Think of the consequences of your words beforehand, or suffer your own consequences.”
Now, I won’t pretend that my little talk magically made my kid change his tune. It didn’t. But the object lesson, combined with various consequences dolled out (again and again and again!) and repeated reminders from Scripture did eventually get through to his stubborn heart. Over time, age, maturity, and God’s good work from the inside out have made him a sensitive brother who is a source of love and encouragement to his siblings — and everyone blessed to be in his circle of influence. While he’s imperfect like all of us, he goes out of his way to be kind. Anyone who truly knows him will tell you there isn’t a mean-spirited bone in his body.
Not long ago, I watched an online friend’s IG story where she talked about a remark she received after sharing something previously on a different IG story. To that original story, someone commented along the lines of Didn’t you look at yourself in the mirror today? Fix your hair before turning on the camera!
Really, it’s appalling that someone actually took the time to spell this out in a comment.
Maybe I’m largely preaching to the choir here, but I think it’s a reminder we could all use from time to time: Our words can empower a heart or give it a pounding. Perhaps we can call out meanness in others, but after examining our own hearts, we call it something else to justify our actions:
I’m just setting them straight.
That’s just the way of my sarcastic personality!
Here’s a reality check for me as much as anyone: Sarcasm is often just meanness wearing a cute skirt. And we need to stop going out of our way to be mean, plain and simple.
A while ago, I talked with my counselor, Gwen, about a difficult personal relationship. I asked her how could I know when it was okay to speak the truth in love and when I was only wanting to vent my own frustration. She responded with something so helpful that I’ve thought of it 283 times since that conversation. Gwen replied,
“When you’re not sure whether or not to respond to someone, ask yourself this: Is your response true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”
If the Holy Spirit is prompting our response rather than our own desire to “tell it like (we think) it is,” the answer will be a yes to all three questions.
As always, I’m not saying it’s wrong to voice a different opinion. As my pastor mentioned last Sunday, we’re called to engage in broken systems and make wrongs right. But doing so requires discernment, trust, prayer, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. So, whether we’re commenting on someone’s hair or her own personal experiences, we want to make sure we’re doing so without the slightest hint of mean spiritedness. We want to ask ourselves: Is what I’m about to comment true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
And when we respond with a yes to all three, then we can know that we’re caring for — and not discarding — another’s heart.
So, let’s go out of our way to be refreshingly, gloriously kind.Leave a Comment
Marian Frizzell says
My mom always quoted those three questions at us when my sisters and I were growing up. I now use them with my own kids. How I hope that they are transforming my own speech when my natural bent is towards “meanness with a cute skirt”.
Kristen Strong says
Your mom was so smart! I wish I’d heard of them in this context when my kiddos were little, *but* I’ve still been able to refer to those questions with my big kids–and certainly with myself.
Thank you, Marian. xo
I cannot thank you enough for this. I tend to lean towards mean spiritedness, usually if I’m hurt or frustrated by another. Praying over my words each day, that they would bring Him glory and make Him smile. Like Prov 31, that we open our mouths with wisdom and kind instruction, or in my case just to listen and not always have to give an answer.
So help me Lord speak what is true, kind and necessary.
Kristen Strong says
I can lean towards it, too, especially when I feel justified in reacting out of someone else’s meanness. It can be hard for us grownups to remember these lessons, me as much as anyone. But I love your words that are an arrow pointing to Prov. 31. Yes! May we listen first and then open our mouths with wisdom and kind instruction. Thank you for sharing here, Dawn. xo
As someone who prided herself for about 30ish years on her sarcastic wit and very much attributed it to my identity…I can attest that when you truly decide to be kind always and prayer for help in doing so, you can slough off the sarcasm and still be “you”. It also just feels better to know you’re not inadvertently hurting someone’s feelings. 🙂
Kristen Strong says
Perfectly, beautifully said. xo
Thank you, Kristen, for your timely words. I recently lashed out at at one of those “sand paper people” . . . my frustration boiled over, unkind words spewed forth and, for emphasis, I slapped the tabletop. It was ugly. Part of me wants to claim my response to the non-stop goading and inane chatter was justified, but my heart bears the shame of my inexcusable reaction. It’s another reminder of how far I haven’t grown in the Spirit and my lack of self-control.
Kristen Strong says
Well, it gets tricky when someone’s ugliness becomes toxic. There are scenarios when Mother Theresa herself would have a hard time showing restraint. But yes–balancing boundaries with words (if spoken) that are truth in love is something we all have to practice!
A good acronym is to THINK before you speak. (I believe the credit for this belongs to Sharon Jaynes.)
May your words be:
KAREN M PURKEY says
Thanks for sharing.l
This is wonderful, and helpful.
Kristen Strong says
Yes Kim, I, too, say thanks for sharing!
Bev Rihtarchik says
I could have used the egg visual some twenty years ago when my littles were pushing each other’s buttons. There’s something to the old adage – if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Jesus, however, did speak the truth in love. He said things that were hard for listening ears to hear. Finding that sweet spot is difficult. If we are going out of our way to be mean or judgmental, perhaps we have a little too much focus on self. God’s word speaks continually about having a humble heart. Less of me and more of Jesus. Great thought provoking post!
Kristen Strong says
Yes, Bev–that sweet spot is what we’re after, I believe! Well said, friend.
This is a really good reminder. I pray every day about this very issue. My most prickly relationship right now is with my husband. 24/7 companionship isn’t my favorite. So I pray for patience and kindness and a lot of quietness. Some days work better than others. I am, at 68, totally a work in progress. Thank you for your words and trying to aim me towards the right path.
Kristen Strong says
Thank *you* for your encouraging words, Irene. They minister to me and my heart, too. xo
Theresa Boedeker says
Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? If not my mouth needs to stay shut or I need to find a way to say it so it is kind, necessary, and true.
Kristen Strong says
Oh yes, Theresa! Well said.
Laurabelle Smith says
Thank you for the blessing shared today about mean-spiritedness. I will be sharing this on FB because so many need to realize that sarcasm is not acceptable and we all need to examine our hearts, our motives and carefully watch what we say. So many watch us as Christians to see what ‘those people are like’. We need to lead by example and share blessings instead of painful words disguised as humor. Remain blessed.
Janet Martin says
many well-penned thoughts here! much for me to contemplate instead of also sometimes resorting to ‘but’…
Thank you Kristen for sharing your helpful thoughts.
Blessings to all.
BC from BC says
We can all remember to think before we speak. Is is true? Is it kind? Is it pleasing to God. I am sure we have all said things we shouldn’t and been on the receiving part of those hurtful words. Words cannot be unsaid, they hurt clean to the heart and bone. Thank God for His Grace and Mercies for us.
Beth Williams says
I wish & pray that more people would THINK before speaking. Why do we find it necessary to pick out the “bad” things of a person like their hair. Who cares about how someone looks-maybe they had a bad night & are having trouble with children this morning. We would do well to put forth a huge effort to encourage & edify others. We all need a compliment now & then. So tired of the tirade going on. Let’s shower the world with more of God’s love & kindness.
Becky Keife says
Kirsten, I love this so much! You’re so right, friend, and this is such a good reminder for us all.
Also, this line: “Sarcasm is often just meanness wearing a cute skirt.” lol YES!
And…I may just have to borrow that object lesson one day with my kids too. 🙂
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Kirsten thank you for a great word you have spoken. Great way you put things with the egg. Sometimes we can let our word come out of mouth out of the blue. When annoyed at someone because they have done something or said something to annoy or hurt us. So all of sudden we fight back with words that are not nice. When we should have went to Jesus in prayer and asked him to forgive the person that has hurt with their words. We should not have all suddenly said thoses horrible words. We then begin to regret or words. Say we don’t need to be nasty back because they have been nasty to us. I shouldn’t have said that. Would Jesus have wanted me to do or say that back to them because they were horrible to me. My answer probably would be No. So I have change. Remember that person probably is not saved. If saved they should have known better and not have been so horrible with their words. So I going pray and ask Jesus to forgive them and forgive me for my words too. Ask me to go out of my way to be kind in future. Not let when someone is horrible with words let them have me say something not nice back to them. But show them still the love and kindness of Jesus. If I need to say sorry to them say sorry to them for what I said. Ask them to forgive me. Even If the person saved or not saved. That hopefully they will see their wrong and know it was wrong and change. See Jesus in us. Say sorry. If saved they will see they should have watch their words. Say sorry ask forgiveness. We can be better Friends again. Learn from this to be kind to either. Not let it happen again that cause the horrible words to be said. Thank you for another excellent reading. Love you all incourage. Xx
Beautifully written and put into context. I love the way you dealt with your son. Great words of wisdom too. I believe in the mantra, “If you can’t say anything good, then don’t say anything at all.” Makes a lot of sense when you think about it like your suggestion to “THINK” before we say something we may regret. Many thanks, Kristen.
Nancy Ruegg says
Encouragement actually provides uplift for the giver as well as the receiver (although that might be a tough-sell to a young boy!). It also fosters better outcomes than criticism. “Kind words are like honey–sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24). God always knows the best way!
I love thid
I loved this! Just beautiful
Susan G. says
Thank you Kristen. Some wise words here! Now if I can just remember to apply them! 😉
I love reading all your blogs! I get great enjoyment out of reading everything you write.
I still need to get your book… I always say, I’m not a writer, I’m a reader!
Blessings to you, from a soon-to-be great grandmother!