The Art of Delayed Reaction
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry –James 1:19
A high-pitched alarm pierced our slumber in the hotel room. I immediately registered it as a fire alarm, but my husband, Mark, thrashed about searching the nightstand for the “off” button.
“What the heck is that?” he asked.
“It’s a fire alarm,” I said. “Kids, throw some clothes on, we have to go.”
The girls complied while my son, always sensitive to loud noises, became tearful.
“What is it, Mom? What do we do?”
“It’s just a fire alarm, bud. We’ll go downstairs and see what’s up.”
We shuffled out the door in PJs and stocking feet to encounter other bleary-eyed travelers with bedhead making their way down the stairwell.
“I’ll bet someone burned the bacon,” Mark assured our crew.
At 5:50 a.m., just an hour away from serving breakfast, that was a sure bet.
We reached the first floor hallway and headed toward the front doors to discover the front-desk receptionist in the middle of the lobby on a cell phone.
“False alarm, everybody. Sorry.”
Sure enough, the breakfast area was a cloud of sausage and pancake scented smoke. We chuckled and shook our heads before we turned on our heels and trudged back up the stairs to our rooms.
Having taken a sleeping pill at midnight, I longed to dive back under the covers for a couple more hours of shuteye--It was still dark, after all--but the kids were wide awake.
“There’s no way I can go back to sleep now,” my 13-year old daughter, Faith, proclaimed. Her siblings nodded in agreement.
So, it was time to begin our day. Five more hours on the road to visit family in Virginia. I was so tempted to react in my sleep-deprived state, to berate my kids and force them back to their beds. After all, I was justified. This was a ridiculous hour for our first day on spring break. And their animated chatter about the alarm debacle (and before my cup of tea!) was an assault on my patience at o-dark-thirty. My husband was in on the party too, eager, I’m sure, too get an early start. He was ever the morning person. How annoying!
But what would my self-righteous reaction do but dampen everyone’s high spirits? Instead of reaching for anger, I threw off my natural bent and tried for a joke.
“Well, at least we’ve figured out how to get Lainey out of bed in the morning!”
Everyone laughed, including my often sullen 15-year old and our morning fiasco was saved from the brink of disaster. An event that could have been defined by my sharp tongue instead became a comical mishap which would bind our family together as we told the story over and over again.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
God has been teaching me about the power of reactions. I am beginning to grasp the wisdom found in James about slowing down and pushing against my natural inclination to lash out with angry words in order to inflict a verbal whipping. So often, my reactions are pointless and only serve my self-centeredness, anyway.
James’ counsel reminds us to react less and listen more. And what are we listening for? Not only the words of people around us – our family, friends, and yes, even those we disagree with – but to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Sometimes we need not speak at all. Other times, he will offer us deliberate words that bring life and strengthen relationships to replace the ones that naturally spring from a well of selfishness. In this way, our words can become a lens which divinely frames the situation, instead of a myopic filter applied afterward.
The principles of mastering the delayed reaction are found in James simple teaching.
1. Be quick to listen (Greek: akouo) - to give ear to a teaching or a teacher, to comprehend or understand
We cannot give ear to a teaching from the Holy Spirit or hope to comprehend a deeper message when our brains are busy formulating opinions and/or snappy comebacks.
2. Be slow to speak (Greek: laleo) - to use words in order to declare one's mind and disclose one's thoughts
Simply switch on the TV or radio or fire up your favorite podcast to observe how adept we are at keeping our thoughts to ourselves. If you live in a westernized country, being slow to speak is 100% counter-cultural and can make you feel like a lone leaf fighting against hurricane-force winds. The key to curtailing our own words, of course, is to engross ourselves in #1, listening. The truth is, most of our own thoughts are detitus without a Holy Spirit-powered filter.
3. Be slow to become angry (Greek: orge) - any violent emotion exhibited in punishment, hence used for punishment itself
This definition floored me. Anger is a violent emotion which can be used for punishment all by itself. Picture your anger, a swirling black cloud slinging barbs at those around you. Your coworkers. That friend on the other side of the aisle. Your spouse. Your children. Your fury meting out justice to indulge your own ego. Yikes! Not a pretty picture. When the world around us speeds up or our own thoughts race, it's time to apply the brakes and channel our inner turtle.
Photo by weis j on Unsplash
After a breakfast of pancakes and sausage (unblackened), we got on the road that day with smiles on our faces and excited chatter about our adventures to come. As I sat in the passenger seat observing the fog-covered Appalachians surrounding the Pennsylvania turnpike, I couldn't help but think of how I was able to conquer my own mental fog that morning. And how stifling my hasty reaction had allowed God's quiet peace to reign.
Homework: Practice the art of delayed reaction! Take note of God's uncanny ability to divinely frame every circumstance.