My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
It happened often early in our marriage. My wife would share with me how she was feeling about a certain situation, but as she shared her feelings, I only heard my failures. She said, “I’m feel…” I heard, “You don’t do…” And in response some switch in me flipped. My heart rate spiked. Blood rushed to my head. The anger built. We were going to war.
No one ever won those battles. My defensiveness erupted as anger, and I could no longer hear anything. I just wanted to be right. My anger triggered her anger. Then neither of us could admit we were wrong. We could only walk away in a huff. I said things that were hurtful, things I didn’t even mean, and spent the next few days trying to get out from under my words. She felt betrayed and didn’t know if she could trust me with her feelings. It was painful and exhausting.
Then, in a group with men who have been married longer than me, who are wiser and more experienced, I learned a phrase that changed our marriage: “Shut up. Listen. Do not defend. Hear her hurt.” I eventually learned to recognize when I felt “accused” of something to just be quiet or to simply say, “I’m feeling defensive, but I want to hear what you’re saying.” And when I was quiet enough to listen, to hear what she was truly feeling, to hear her hurt, my defensiveness and anger quickly dissolved into empathy and compassion. I could suddenly see the ways I had hurt her and own my part in her hurt without feeling threatened. She felt heard and loved. I felt empowered. Unity, grace, forgiveness, and peace came in abundance.
Unfortunately, it feels like our society is stuck in a mode of anger, defensiveness, and self-righteousness. Pain is often expressed in accusation. We cannot hear one another’s pain because we are operating out of defensiveness to real or perceived, just or unjust accusation. We want to justify ourselves more than we care to hear another person’s suffering. And painfully, this seems to be equally true of those representing Christ. But as James says, “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
Throughout his life, Jesus stood before many accusers, but he was never defensive. Rather than defending his life, he laid it down of his own accord (John 10:18). He lived for and received the Father’s approval. He epitomized humility. He came to serve. He saw the hurt of the people before him. He responded with compassion. His life was never in the hands of those who sought to kill him. Neither was it in the hands of those who sought to make him king. His life was lived unto the Father. He did not need to defend himself before men, because the one who willingly laid down his life also had the authority to take it up again. He knew he had the Father’s love, so he did not need the approval of men.
When we know that we truly have been justified by faith and truly have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-5), we are free to listen. We no longer need to be defensive, because we are those who know that the shed blood of Jesus was necessary for us. Because of our sin. We begin in faith by readily acknowledging our wrongdoing. We don’t now need to act as if we are incapable of wrong. And we don’t need the approval of people, because through Christ we have the Father’s approval. And we don’t need to minimize our sin because grace has already been given in abundance. In Christ there is no reason to be defensive. So, we can be those who listen and hear the pain of others even when the expression of that pain feels like accusation. Let us walk in the footsteps of Jesus, setting aside our defensiveness to hear one another’s hurt.