Have you ever heard this statement before or even thought of the concept? Of course, we all know that once the toothpaste comes out, it ISN'T going back in! That is the obvious result you will get when handing over the tube to your two year old with no assistance. (I don't recommend it)
I have to admit, I never heard anyone use this word picture or analogy before, but a few weeks ago, I was privileged enough to sit in on our JR High Sunday School class. I was joining a student that we had invited to our church for the first time, and was so moved by the lesson the teacher had prepared. She simply had the kids draw the first picture that came to their mind as they read selected words she had written on their page. (fire, poison, trouble, evil, etc.) Then she attached verses for them to look up directly below the pictures they were drawing. The overall goal was to help the kids see that our words are much like the toothpaste squeezed out of the tube. She reminded all of us how our tung can spew such evil, troublesome, and sometimes even poisonous words. She also reminded us that our words, much like the toothpaste squeezed out of the tube, could not be put back in...
I left that day with a light hearted "happy" feeling. After all, I don't often go around saying mean things to people on purpose to hurt them, and when confronted with my less than frequent offenses, I am ALWAYS willing to say I am sorry. Right? You can probably relate? I left with the attitude, "At least I am not one of THOSE people."
A few days later, I received a message from a dear friend. Something I had done out of obligation, had wounded them deeply as they perceived the action from a different perspective. I must honestly tell you that after hearing of their hurt, and hearing in my ears the words they chose to use in telling me of their hurt, I sat....for hours...steaming mad...
Not only did I stew, but I tossed words around in my head, wanting to fire back, wanting to sling some hurtful things that I just so happen could drum up about them, in their direction. "Let's give them a little something to think about," I thought! "They think they are so perfect? Well, wait until I tell them a thing or two!"
I began to write. This is a very common activity for me, something I often do. However, I wasn't writing in my journal, or in a notebook to collect my thoughts. I wasn't even writing to God, praying for help in my response... Oh no! This was a letter that I planned on writing to THEM.
I began crafting words together...loaded words...hurtful ones, full of emotion and passion...full of unkindness, yet correctness, I argued in my head. After sentences and sentences fell on the page, I felt a weight lifted off of my shoulders. "This is good," I thought. "This is healthy," I said to my self. Then, I sat back and reread my statements...
drum roll please.......
WOW! My appeal, my rebutle had NOTHING to do with the original issue at hand. It was a bunch of hurt and emotion that I had no place else to deposit, and because this person opened a small crack in my heart, boy oh boy, were they going to get it!
Have you ever done that? Have you ever just unloaded on someone and it felt so good...so right....so relieving? Well, for those of you that have...what often happens next? If you haven't ever done this, (I would love to meet you oh-so-perfect individual) please, let me enlighten you!
More anger, more hurt is stirred up. The slinging of words back and forth becomes a game...with very competitive players. Thrusting all of their hurt and emotions back and forth, back and forth. Throwing caution to the wind, neither player experiences healing, a strengthening of friendship, or the opportunity to both extend and receive grace.
This was the game I was about to enter. (Again) A game that I was good at. A game that I often played. When I have time to sit and think, to write, to craft my words perfectly, I can be pretty good at hurting others. Thankfully, I was compelled to tell my husband about what I was about to do, and he assured me that the "send" button should stay far away from my fingers! He gave me no alternative solution to dealing with how I felt other than getting into God's word and being still.
I came across Proverbs 15:1. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger
"Oh my goodness, Mandi. What did you just about do?"
I thought quietly for a moment and knew that God was speaking directly to me, and I knew I had to stop playing this game...I had to stop squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube.
Instead, I wrote a note, telling this person how much I loved them, how much I cared, and that I was so sorry. Now, many of you may say in the heat of the moment, "I didn't do anything wrong!" That may be true, but how about doing something right? I had apparently, unknowingly, hurt this person badly. I had opened a deep, deep wound that I didn't even know they had. I honestly, did feel bad about that!
So, for the million dollar question... Did the person respond well? Did they cry, apologize and buy me flowers? Um...NO! The verse in Proverbs says a gentle answer turns wrath away, it doesn't say it will immediately heal wounds. It just doesn't create more. Am I disappointed, mad, or angry about the results?
No, the way I see it, in this situation...doing things according to the verse in proverbs, just allowed for less toothpaste to clean up. The next time you get ahold of that tube, let it remind you of God's word in proverbs. Gently squeeze it out, purposefully on your toothbrush. Not too little and not too much. Just enough to obtain the goal...
Clean teeth, and softened hearts.