My mom has a saying—put a little love in your voice. It’s her advice to my sisters and me when she hears us crabbing at our kids.
If only she could be in my house at 7:30 every morning to remind me.
“Are you done with your breakfast? It’s time to brush your teeth! Hurry or we’ll be late for school.”
Imagine those words poured sweet as syrup from a momma’s lips. The inner dialog sings, Sweetie pie, did you get your fill of pancakes? My heart aches to think of you hungry at recess time. Off you go now to brush-a-brush those pearly whites! I want to make sure you have plenty of time to hang your backpack and change out of your snow boots before the bell rings. Love you!
If it were anybody else talking to my child, that’s the tone of voice I’d want to hear.
Why, then, do I often sound like this?
Are you STILL poking at your breakfast? Look at the clock, for crying out loud! Hightail it to the sink and brush your teeth NOW! Don’t make me drive like a wailing fire truck to get your lazy bottom to school on time! Move!
Yikes. Do you see? The trouble isn’t necessarily what we say. It’s how we say it.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” (Proverbs 15:1).
Oh, how many emotional disasters could be averted in my home if I’d just put a little love in my voice. Surely I’ve figured out by now that impatience is counterproductive. When I bark at my kids, they tune me out at best. Sometimes they strike back. Worst, on rare but awful occasions, they cry. Then I grovel in the driver’s seat all the way to school, wishing for a do-over.
So I took my mom’s advice. Last week, whenever frustration bubbled within me and threatened to spurt, I blew the air from my lungs and spoke gently instead.
“No, you cannot have a lollipop for breakfast.”
Not: Are you serious? You just woke up two minutes ago and already you’re begging for sugar? What is WRONG with you?
But rather: Oh, you’re so silly! I’ve got something better. Strawberries, yay!
“I told you to put your jacket on.”
Not: For the last time, get your stupid jacket on!
But rather: Um, remember? I mentioned that little jacket thing a minute ago. Let’s try again.
“Buckle your seatbelt!”
Not: Quit squirming in your seat and focus, people! We need to go!
But rather: Alrighty, happy campers, let’s all buckle up for safety!
And guess what—it worked. My girls cooperated more readily, found fewer opportunities to buck me, and everyone hopped into the van, smiling and chatty, three minutes ahead of schedule.
I find it interesting that a few lines down the book of Proverbs, after the verse about gentle answers versus harsh words, shines this little gem:
“The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good,” (Proverbs 15:3).
Do you ever wonder if you’d act different with Jesus in the room? Hey, I’d spiff up my behavior if the mailman stopped by. Imagine how far I’d go to tame my tongue for the Lord of the universe.
And that’s the kicker. He is in the room. His eyes are in my kitchen, when I’m mopping spilled juice. In my hallway, when I’m wrestling octopus arms into jackets. In my minivan, when the kids bicker over what carpool game to play. I Spy? Or rhyming words? I know, girls—let’s ask Jesus!
Thankfully, the Lord is full of grace. He loves me through my harsh words and do-over mornings. But I wonder—if I wouldn’t snap at Jesus to hurry and brush his teeth, why should my kids deserve less?
Put a little love in your voice. It’s Proverbs 15:1, paraphrased mom-style. Tonight, I’m expanding my practice to the bedtime routine. This will change my life, folks. I can hardly wait to get started.