CONFLICT IN A FLORAL SHOP By Dr. James Dobson
As an impetuous young student in college, I had perfected the art of verbal combat to a high level of proficiency. I took pride in my ability to "put down" an opponent, particularly those whom I perceived as being unfair or disrespectful to me or my friends. It is a skill which I recall with some embarrassment today, although the exchange of insults and verbal abuse is not uncharacteristic of young people between 18 and 22 years of age.
After graduating from college and getting married, however, I began to be aware that God disapproved of the way I handled human conflict. "A soft answer turneth away wrath," I read in Proverbs, and the same theme was inescapable throughout the teachings of Jesus. This was plainly an area wherein the Lord expected me to bring my behavior into harmony with His Word. Yet, the bad habits of childhood are not easily broken.
It seems as though divine providence allowed a series of offensive people to cross my path during that period, each one teaching me a little more about self-control and tolerance. Every time I failed to represent the Christian love I professed, the Holy Spirit seemed to rebuke me in the days that followed. There were many "tests" involved in this learning experience, but the final examination occurred about three years later.
I had decided to surprise my wife with a corsage on Easter Sunday morning, being a firm believer in marital "flower power." The local florist took my order and promised that an orchid would be ready after five o'clock Saturday night. All week long I harbored this noble deed in my generous heart, smiling to myself and anticipating the moment of truth after breakfast the following Sunday.
When Saturday afternoon rolled around, I found a phony excuse to leave in the car for a few minutes, and drove to the florist to retrieve the secret package. The shop was crowded with customers and the lady behind the counter was obviously overworked and stressed. My first mistake, I suppose, was in not perceiving her tension soon enough, or the beads of sweat which ringed her upper lip. I patiently waited my turn and watched each patron carry his order past me and out the door. When I finally reached the counter and gave my name, the saleslady shuffled through a stack of tickets, and then said matter-of-factly, "We're not going to be able to fill your order. You'll just have to get your flowers somewhere else."
She did not offer a reason or apologize for the error. Her voice had a definite take-it-or-leave-it sound which I found irritating. She stood, hands on hips, glaring at me as though I had somehow caused the mistake.
At first I was puzzled, and then I asked, "Why did you accept my order if you were unable to prepare it? I could have gone somewhere else, but now it too late to buy a corsage at another shop."
I remember distinctly that my response was very controlled under the circumstances, although my displeasure was no doubt apparent. My brief question had no sooner been uttered than a curtain swung open at the rear of the building and a red-faced man burst into the shop. He stormed toward me and pressed his chest against mine. I have no idea how big he was; I only know that I'm six-foot-two and weigh 190 pounds, yet, my eyes focused somewhere between his pulsating Adam's apple and his quivering chin. It was immediately apparent that Goliath was not merely upset--he was livid with rage! He curled his lip upward and shook his clenched fist in the vicinity of my jaw.
For the next two minutes or so, he unloaded the most violent verbal attack I had ever sustained. He used every curse word I knew and then taught me a few I hadn't even heard in the Army. Then, after questioning my heritage, he announced his intention of throwing a certain portion of my anatomy out the front door.
It is difficult to describe the emotional shock of that moment. It was a conflict I neither sought nor anticipated. Suddenly, without warning, I had tripped a spring that must have been winding tighter and tighter throughout that hectic day (or year). The next move was clearly mine. Silence fell on the shop as a half-dozen customers gasped and awaited my response.
The toughest part of the encounter involved the instantaneous conflict between what my impulses dictated and what God had been trying to teach me. In a matter of two or three seconds, it seemed as though the Lord said to me, "Are you going to obey Me, or not?"
I muttered some kind of defensive reply, and then did the most difficult thing I had ever been required to do: I turned on my heels and walked from the shop. To the customers, I probably appeared cowardly--especially in view of the size of my adversary. Or, perhaps they assumed I could think of no appropriate reply. All of these agitating thoughts reverberated through my head as I walked to my car.
Did I go home in triumph at having done what God wanted of me? Certainly not immediately. Hot blood pulsed through my neck and ears, and adrenalin surged through my veins. My immediate response was to do something primitive--like heave a brick through the window where a bouquet of roses sat. Gradually, however, my physiological state returned to normal and I looked back on my restraint with some satisfaction.
The kind of frustration I experienced in the floral shop, whether it be called anger or some related emotion, is of importance to others trying to live the Christian life. I'm not the only one who has had to learn how to control his tongue and the tumultuous undercurrents which often propel it. But what does God expect of us in this area of our lives? Does He want us to be bland, colorless individuals who have no feelings at all? Is all anger sinful? There are many related questions with theological implications which we will consider in the discussion that follows.
Be sure to check back next week for part 2 in this series, "What is Anger? When is it Sinful?"
From Emotions: Can You Trust Them? By Dr. James C. Dobson.
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