Quick, Slow, Slow

I think it might have been early on in my marriage that my heart was first pricked by the words of James 1:19. They came to mind again later in life as I sought wisdom in managing difficult friendships and family relationships. And they most certainly hit hard when I first realized I was a mother to living, breathing, talking, listening, vulnerable human beings.

Now, I’m pretty sure James 1:19 is just one of those verses. A life verse. Something that will always convict me -- something to always strive toward -- from here to eternity. It just won’t ever not apply.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…”

In my first Bible study on the book of James, the author asked which of those three commands was most challenging to me. I answered: all three. I will probably always answer: all three.

Strangely enough, I seem to have borne a child who shares this exact struggle. And I have been unwittingly grooming this sin in him for years. I once even managed to give this same child a lengthy, heated lecture on Proverbs 17:27-28, without recognizing so much as a hint of irony:

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”


As my children have grown older and their differences more distinct, I am learning more than ever that sometimes I just need to shut. my. mouth. Lots of words are like perpetual thorns and overwhelm him; she needs me to wrap her in a blanket of soft listening. Raising my voice is rarely effective.

When I’m too busy talking, or too busy scolding (for the same mistakes, big and small, which I should know by now will happen again and again) I’m doing everything backwards. Rushing into anger, spewing out words, skipping over hearing altogether. Where was his heart in all this? What was the real root of her behavior? Just why am I so upset?

James 1:19 offers a more fulfilling, more purposeful stew.

Quick to hear.

Slow to speak.

Slow to anger.

This is just the kind of old-fashioned intentionality we need in an era of constantly growing technology that offers insta-everything. When a major news event occurs, we rush to be the first to say something righteous and relevant about it online, before we even know the facts. I know I do a really good job of teaching my kids that there is nothing more thrilling than posting a vacation picture as it’s happening. And how easy is it to judge a group of young people who are actively disconnecting from the others sitting right next to them in the same room? (Yet we do the same thing?)

As opportunities for face-to-face, in-person connections dwindle, we need to passionately pursue James 1:19. We need to work at modeling respectful, engaged listening, whenever we can -- and not just to our children, but to each other. May our words be metered, our self-righteous anger kept carefully in check, and our own hearts quick to humbly accept the truth the Lord has already placed there.

As the subsequent verses in James teach us:

“...the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God...receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” –James 1:20-21