“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch at the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3 NIV) “We are the master of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out” ~Winston Churchill~
My brother Dan said, “I’m going home! Your bickering is driving me nuts. Your constant fighting’s more irritating than chewing on tinfoil!”
I defended our behavior, “Hey, it’s not like we disagree about everything. Ron and I agree on all the major issues. We hardly ever fight about “big stuff” like how to spend our money, how to raise Nick, or who’s a better driver (me). It’s just the little stuff that gets to us.”
He sighed and said, “Well, I’m sick of hearing you go to war over where to put the towel rack, which TV shows to watch, or who left the lights on. It’s all dumb stuff. None of it will matter a year from now. Why did you have to criticize the way he mowed the lawn? I know it wasn’t perfect, but couldn’t you just let it go?”
“No,” I replied, “We are having company tomorrow, and I want the yard to be perfect. So I told him to fix it, big deal! We were married in the seventies, and Helen Ready told me that I had to roar if I wanted to be heard, so I roar—and it works, because he re-mowed the lawn and I won.”
Dan paused, shook his head, and said, “If you keep this up, you may win the arguments but lose your husband.”
I smacked him on the arm and said, “Oh, stop being so melodramatic!”
The next evening, Ron and I went out to dinner with some friends we hadn’t seen in several years. We remembered Carl as being funny and outgoing, but he seemed rather sad and looked exhausted. His wife, Beth, did most of the talking. She told us about her fabulous accomplishments at work and endlessly bragged about her brilliant, Mensa-bound children.
She didn’t mention her husband, except to criticize him.
After we ordered our dinner, she said, “Carl, I saw you flirting with that waitress!” (He wasn’t.)
“Caarrrrlll,” she whined, “can’t you do anything right?” You are holding your fork like a little kid!” (He was.)
When he mispronounced an item on the desert menu, his wife said, “No wonder you flunked out of college, you can’t read!” She laughed so hard—she snorted—but she was the only one laughing.
Carl didn’t even respond. He just looked over at us with an empty face and a blank stare. Then he shrugged his sad shoulders and looked away.
The rest of the evening was even more oppressive as she continued to harangue and harass him about almost everything he said or did. I thought, I wonder if this is how my brother feels when I criticize Ron.
We said goodbye to Beth and Carl and left the restaurant in silence. When we got in the car, I spoke first, “Do I sound like her?”
Ron said, “You’re not that bad.”
I asked, “How bad am I?”
“Pretty bad,” he half whispered.
The next morning, as I poured water into the coffee pot, I looked over at my “Scriptures for Wives” calendar. “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands.” Or with her own mouth, I thought.
“A nagging wife annoys like a constant dripping.” How did I turn into such a nag?
“Set a guard, oh Lord, over my mouth.” Oh, please show me how!
I carefully spooned the vanilla nut de-caf into to the pot, as I remembered the day I forgot the filter. The coffee was bitter and full of undrinkable grounds. I had to throw it away.
Then it dawned on me, The coffee, without filtering, is like my coarse and bitter speech.
I said, “Oh God, please install a filter between my brain and my mouth. Help me to choose my words carefully and speak in smooth and mellow tones. Thank you for teaching me the ‘Lesson of the Coffee Filter.’ I won’t forget it.”
An hour later, Ron timidly asked, “What do you think about moving the couch over by the window? We’ll be able to see the TV better.”
My first thought was to tell him, That’s a dumb idea! The couch will fade if you put it in the sunlight and besides, you already watch too much TV.
But instead of my usual hasty reply, I let the coarse thoughts drip through my newly installed filter and smiled as I said, “That might be a good idea, let’s try it for a few days and see if we like it. I’ll help you move it!”
He lifted his end of the sofa in stunned silence. Once we had it in place, he asked with concern, “Are you OK? Do you have a headache?”
I chuckled, “I’m great honey, never better. Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
Ron and I recently celebrated our twenty-seventh wedding anniversary, and I’m happy to report that my “filter” is still in place—although it occasionally springs a leak! I’ve also expanded the filter principal beyond my marriage, and I have found it amazingly useful when I speak to telemarketers, traffic cops, and teenagers.