I used to be a world-class, Olympic-gold-medal-winning nag. When my husband, Ron, and I first got married, I wanted to win every argument and be the boss of my tiny universe.
One day my younger brother Dan witnessed me at my naggiest. “I’m going home” he said. “Your bickering is making me crazy-it wears me out. Listening to you two argue is more painful than chewing on tinfoil!”
I defended our behavior. “Hey, it’s not like we disagree about everything. Ron and I agree on all the major issues. We hardly ever fight about ‘big stuff’ like where to go to church or who’s a better driver (me). We just disagree about the ‘little stuff.'”
He sighed. “Well, I’m sick of hearing you go to war over where to put the towel rack, which TV shows to watch, or who did-or didn’t-use a coaster. It’s all dumb stuff. None of it will matter a year from now. I can tell that Ron is really mad by the way he stomped up the stairs. Why did you have to criticize the way he mowed the lawn. I know it wasn’t perfect, but couldn’t you just let it go?”
“No,” I replied. “We’re having company tomorrow, and I want the yard to be perfect. So I told him to fix it. Big deal! Anyway, I won, because he re-mowed it.”
Dan shook his head, “If you keep this up, you may win the arguments, but lose your husband.”
I slugged his arm. “Oh, stop being so melodramatic!”
After Dan left, I started to wonder if I was pushing Ron away with my criticism. I got my answer the next evening when Ron and I went out to dinner with some friends.
We hadn’t seen them in several years, but we remembered Carl as being funny and outgoing. Now, though, he seemed quiet and looked exhausted. His wife, Beth, did most of the talking. She told us about her endless, fabulous accomplishments, and bragged about her brilliant children who were sure to be future members of MENSA. She mentioned Carl only in order to criticize him.
After we ordered our dinner, she said, “Carl, I saw you flirting with that waitress!” (He wasn’t.) “Caarrrrlll,” she whined, “can’t you do anything right? You’re holding your fork like a little kid!” (He was.)
When he mispronounced an item on the desert menu, she said, “No wonder you flunked out of college; you can’t read!” She laughed so hard that she snorted, but she was the only one laughing
Carl didn’t even respond. He just looked at us with an empty stare and gave his shoulders a sad shrug. The rest of the evening was oppressive as she harangued and harassed him about almost everything he said or did. I felt myself cringing inwardly and wondered if this was how my brother felt when I criticize Ron.
We said good-bye to Beth and Carl and left the restaurant in silence. When we got into the car, I spoke first, “Do I sound like her?”
“You’re not that bad.”
“How bad am I?”
“Pretty bad,” he half whispered.
The next morning as I poured water into the coffee pot, I looked over at my “Devotions for Wives” calendar.
“The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her own hands” (Prov. 14:1). Or with her own mouth, I thought.
“A nagging wife annoys like constant dripping” (Prov. 19:13 TLB). How can I stop this horrible pattern?
“Put a guard over my mouth that I may not sin with it.” Oh Lord, show me how!
As I carefully spooned the vanilla nut decaf into the pot, I remembered the day I forgot the filter. The coffee was bitter and full of grounds. I had to throw it away.
I thought, “The coffee, without filtering, is like my coarse and bitter words.
I prayed, “Oh, please Lord, install a filter between my brain and my mouth. Help me to choose my words carefully. I want my speech to be smooth and mellow. Thank you for teaching me the ‘Parable of the Coffee Filter.’ I won’t forget it.”
An hour later, Ron timidly asked, “What do you think about moving the couch over by the window? We’ll be able to see the TV better.”
My first thought was to tell him why that was a dumb idea. The couch will fade if you put it in the sunlight, and besides, you already watch too much TV. Instead of my usual hasty reply, I let the coarse thoughts drip through my newly installed filter and calmly said, “That might be a good idea. Let’s try it for a few days and see if we like it. I’ll help you move it.”
He lifted his end of the sofa in stunned silence. Once we had it in place, he asked with concern, “Are you okay? Do you have a headache?”
I chuckled. “I’m great honey, never better. Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
I’m happy to report that, 25 years later, I still have the filter in place, although it occasionally springs a leak.
We would all be well on our way to happy marriages if we just applied Philippians 4:8 to include what we say to our spouses. Let me paraphrase: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, and right. Speak about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Speak about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” If we, in the words of Jiminy Cricket, “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” in our speech, our homes would be more peaceful and inviting.
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