Foolish people are always fighting, but avoiding quarrels will bring you honour.” Proverbs 20:3
I’m considering putting this verse on a plaque on the wall in my house. I have five teenage girls; quarrels seem inevitable whether they’re about who’s turn it is to empty the dishwasher, who has hidden the hair dryer or who wants to spend time with who.
Forget about honour, avoiding quarrels would bring me peace.
But this verse isn’t about me not having to put up with teenage spats and avoiding the headache of mediating between hormonal girls; this verse is about my quarrels, the fights I pick.
I don’t like to think of myself as a fight picker. I have a whole different image in my head of who does that. In my head, my only issues are with people who pick fights with me, and leave me with no option but to deal with the situation they put me in.
But here’s the thing, and I can hear my mother’s voice ringing in my ears like an echo from the past, it takes two to quarrel.
The truth is, I’m not a fight picker, but I do choose to engage when someone brings the fight to me. I’m not and never will be a street brawler, but I can not stand injustice, and when I perceive that someone is not being fair in a situation, I want to set them straight. Particularly if it’s about my children, my friends or me.
I want to rationalise with them, reason, make them see sense and even on the times when I realise that reasoning isn’t going to work, that this is a fight I can’t win, a person that doesn’t want to see the other side of the argument, I continue the thoughts in my head.
I think of all the things I want to say; I imagine how the conversation would go in my perfect world, construct brilliant arguments that no one could possibly fail to be won over by. If I’m not careful, I start obsessing about the things I think they might be saying to other people, the things they’re thinking about me, the things I do and the right I have to do them.
And as I allow these thoughts to ramble through my brain, they take over. They pop into my psyche with increasing frequency. I stop thinking about the things I should; I stop concentrating on what really matters. I become stalled in time and space quarrelling by myself with someone who doesn’t even know that I’m doing it.
I can’t imagine a better definition of foolishness.
When I think of it like this, it’s plain embarrassing. No matter how unfair the person is being, how unjust, I can’t control their thoughts. I think that is one of the things I find hardest in the world. I’m quite sure it qualifies me as a bona fide control freak, but it’s true. My inability to make other people see things the way I do, frustrates me more than almost anything else in the world, but here’s the thing I’m trying to learn:
I can only control me.
The only person I can change is me and my response to a situation. I may not pick fights, but I do choose how to respond when someone brings them to me. I can choose to accept that someone doesn’t like me, I can even choose to accept that they are not being fair. I can choose to forgive them. I can choose to pray for them – not that God would appear in a cloud of glory and tell them I was right, but just pray for them, for their good, for their relationship with Him, for their peace, that I can love them better.
And I can leave the rest to God. I can choose not to rehearse the conversations that I would like to have. I can choose not to wonder what they are saying and thinking about me; I can choose not to fear how others are influenced by that.
I can choose to find my identity in who God says I am. Turn to Him for validation, read His Word to know what He says about me. As I choose to do that, I can grow in confidence and security to a place where it really doesn’t matter what someone else says, because I know who I am, because the Bible tells me so.
I can choose, instead, to focus on the calling on my life, to grow in wisdom, to become more like the one I follow. I can concentrate on doing the things I should be doing – writing, talking, teaching people about Jesus, being a mum, a wife and a friend.
When I make those choices I don’t just find honour and peace; I find freedom.