A Soft Answer

They were feeling me out, poking to see what I was made of. Mischief sparkled in their eyes, and gentle teasing bounced toward me. This lunch was the first of many among new friends, and I felt a mighty push to impress. Gathering every ounce of wit available, I opened my mouth. My young heart swelled as the pert joke aimed at my jousting opponent met laughter. Was that admiration in their eyes? Really? I had discovered my superpower—a quick tongue. And so it began.

I’ll give you three guesses as to where this is going.

It didn’t take long for this superpower to become my greatest enemy. Over the following months, what began as humor morphed into a suit of armor. As the laughter grew, so did my inability to function without it. I turned sarcasm into an Olympic sport, and while the witty comebacks shut down deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy, they also shut down depth in relationship. This need to be the cleverest one in the room muted my entire emotional side and clouded my vision until the only person I could see was myself. Superpower indeed.

Thankfully, the Father allowed me to go only so far along this unwitting path of self-destruction before singing me back home to His heart. Though I had never before observed Lent (being a good Southern Baptist and all), as spring rolled around this particular year, I noticed a foreign desire stirring inside of me: why not fast from sarcasm? Could I do it? Always up for a challenge, I put on my big girl pants and swaggered my way into Day 1 of 40. That swagger didn’t last long.

Do you know how vulnerable the world can make you without a quick answer to defend yourself?

Over the following month, stuffed with incredible amounts of pain and surprise, God blew my ideas of what I needed all to pieces. He showed me that I had been wielding sarcasm out of false bravado. Forcing myself to justify my own existence through humor was too heavy a load for me to bear. The deep fear I was actually responding to was, “What if I’m not enough without pretending to be awesome? What if they get bored of me and leave?” I had grown allergic to who I really was. That good, good Father stooped down, lifted my chin, and began singing.

Well, fragile heart, what if they had? What would still be true? That you are deeply loved, always pursued, completely wanted by the King of Heaven. He can’t stop smiling at you—not because of the funny things you force but because He is genuinely happy you exist.

My longing to belong was a good one, wired into my soul, but I had run to others with it rather than to the One who could answer it fully and forever.

As I mimicked Job and put a hand over my mouth for Lent that year, I saw friendships that had previously been stunted by sarcasm bloom into safe, intriguing places for both parties to taste and see that the Lord is good. Opportunities to divert attention with humor were explored instead with vulnerability and honesty, and I learned how true Proverbs 15:1 can be: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Laying down my sword disarmed hearts around me and offered a space of mercy. The battlefield transformed into a ballroom, and the dancing, though tentative and awkward at first, was a beautiful thing to behold.

One of my favorite discoveries from this Lent experiment was that authenticity inspires authenticity. As I released my tendency to self-protect, others were automatically invited to strip off their own coping mechanisms in response. Very few instances arose in which I was raw and real instead of funny and met with anything less than someone else’s raw and real self. All of our fig leaves blew away, and we could experience each another truly without the need to pretend or perform. I was given eyes to see other people rather than being fixated on my own needs and fears.

Furthermore, surrendering my choice weapon allowed God to expose it as the danger it was—not just an innocent game without consequences but one of the enemy’s favorite ploys for the human heart. In the words of Kristen Strong, “Really, sarcasm is just pride in a cute skirt.” It was pride. Where the enemy stirs up self-sufficiency, the Spirit enables softness and the courage to be humble when I’m tempted to cover my fear of inadequacy with a quick tongue. I don’t have to save myself at the lunch table because my Deliverer is at hand, and He is pleased with me. (Can you even imagine?!)

Now, listen: I still enjoy a clever response every now and then. But it’s not the place I look to for rescue anymore. When the pain of the way things are overtakes the pain of change, the Spirit is just waiting to do a new thing in the landscape of our souls. Let’s lay down our weapons, stand back, and watch Him work.

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