For most of the past two weeks, my sick bed was my comfortable place. Well, actually, there could have been more comfort there. At any rate, illness changes perspectives. We ponder more. We see things as they really are, and priorities shift to those things most important.
Too sick to read, my mind rehearsed various events and scriptures. Somehow, it shifted into neutral as it came across the words "contention" and "contentious." What developed was eye-opening.
Contention. It’s all around us: homes, schools, workplaces, public places and sometimes even in places of worship.
The Old Testament is a good source to learn about it, mostly in the book of Proverbs, but an antonym, "strife," is also found. The two go hand in hand.
In Proverbs, we are told that “hatred stirs up strife" — that pride leads to strife and "a fool’s lips enter into contention."
No one is immune.
Later, in a conversation with a dear friend, she asked the women present, “Do you ever find yourself correcting your husband’s story as he is telling it?”
Of course I do. People need to know the truth!
Then she dropped the bomb, “Then you are a contentious wife!”
Taking my comeuppance in stride, I was sufficiently humbled on the spot. Now, personally, in my birth family as well as the family my husband and I created, my role has always been that of peacemaker, so imagine my surprise when it was revealed to me that even I have contentious habits. Yes, guilty as charged.
Other words for contentious are argumentative, nagging, quarrelsome and irritable.
The power of that word fell on me with its full weight. My heart grew heavy. My eyes were opened and my spirit convicted as to just how far removed I was as a godly wife. Single women can be contentious, as well.
My mind reeled with this new information and realization. It all came down to the ways of this broken world. From the time we first communicate, we learn how to argue, nag, quarrel and be irritable. We become selfish. We find ways to justify and minimize our own behaviors.
We even argue that we are not arguing.
My thoughts became a confused jumble as my mind tried to sort through them. I asked myself if it was that important that everything my husband said was truthful from my viewpoint. Did I simply need to have the last word? Could I keep my mouth shut and be more gracious?
Then I recalled the THINK technique: Is it?
Applying this was more of a challenge than I care to admit. Yes, the contentiousness is still there; however, I am becoming more adept at being much quieter and a bit slower to jump in. It is a journey which shall continue until my last breath, no doubt, but as slow as it is, there is progress.
In the process of practicing holding my tongue, more peace and rest come. Learning to let go of the feeling that it is my job to keep everyone else honest is liberating. There is more than one way to do, express and view things.
Contentious is an ugly word that I will strive to eliminate from my personality. It’s a step-by-step decision to THINK before they pour out of my mouth. When applied, most don’t make it past H.
We have no idea how long something we say stays in someone’s mind — though I should be cognizant of it always as words have wounded me deeply and unforgettably.
I’ve learned that when we get offended or hurt by the words or actions of others, it reveals things within us that are in great need of healing. Once our inner wounds are faced, words no longer hold power over us.
It is crucial to remember that our word carries the weight to become either a force to lift, encourage and inspire or to tear down and harm.
Choose your words wisely. I’m trying, but alas, when I fail — and I will — all will not be lost. I will repent and try again so please remain patient with me as I have an entire lifetime of bad habits to overcome.
Years ago, I was the leader of our children’s group at church. Once a month, I donned silly garb and character and morphed into "Sister Friendly." The children loved it, and it was great fun for me as well. One of the messages I shared with them stands out in my mind.
“Guard well thy tongue, for it is in a wet place and might slip.” It was written on huge tongue depressors — how fitting. Pray for me to overcome and eliminate contention from my soul.
— A coal miner’s daughter born in Appalachia and schooled in Michigan, she currently lives in rural Athens. Hill describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, a Christian wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her home with her husband, Bob, and their spoiled-beyond-belief dog, Molly.