In my teenage years I had a weird habit of slugging people. Not right in the face, thank goodness, but a slug in the arm. When we were joking around, or if I was being teased, or if things just got uncomfortable I'd unleash a sling of sarcasm and a slug. So many of my friends did it that I didn't pause for a moment to consider that there was anything wrong with it.
Then DH came into the picture. Our relationship was going along, not engagement serious yet, but we were spending a lot of time together. One day I slugged him, he rubbed his arm, looked at me and said, "You know, that hurts."
"Oh, come on."
Pause. Wheels turn. A big tough man was telling me that my slugs hurt. I could take it two ways. Be happy that I made an impact, or stop because hurting anyone should be avoided. When we are hurt emotionally we have similar choices.
I had been hurt. People don't get through their teenage years without some measure of grief and heartache. The way I chose to deal with pain was to cover it up, act tough, be tougher than the pain. It became my identity. I was a tomboy, dressed in holey jeans and t-shirts and had strictly sworn off pink. I ignorantly thought that I didn't need anybody or anything, despite the fact that I clung to some people very tightly. I didn't wear makeup, I said because I didn't want to, but honestly I might have if I had known how to use it or owned any. My clothes were baggy- to hide a developing body that I felt self-conscious about and because my clothes had to last more than one season. My art fit in well with the facade, the great mysterious artist with complicated and depressed emotions.
When DH and I had that conversation about hitting, it was a small pivot point in my life. Because of DH's feelings for me, I didn't shrug off his comment. His soft answer turned away my emotional wrath. I tried to stop slugging. So silly that I couldn't stop overnight, but it had become a habit, an instant reaction to certain situations - situations which made me uncomfortable.
I think when I stopped slugging I started to soften. DH's love softened me too. Instead of changing the conversational dynamic with a slug, I had to face what made me uncomfortable. Then I made choices about how to behave that were more in line with what my beliefs were. What Christ exemplified. As my soul has strengthened I have been braver about being soft.
We didn't hug or kiss much in my family growing up, but DH's family did. That took some getting used to. It's hard to keep up that tough girl facade when kissing people.
Somewhere along the line I started to dress differently too. It probably started when I got a job as a receptionist. I had to dress in a more respectable way than holey jeans and over sized t-shirts. Becoming a wife and mother probably had something to do with it too. It opened my eyes to the purpose of my body, and the amazing things that are accomplished with it. It made me want to look like a woman, a strong soft woman who cares for her body.
My language changed too. Sarcasm is still a part of my repertoire, but it isn't as frequent or as harsh as it was in the past. C. S. Lewis has written that “if prolonged, the habit of flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against [God] that I know. It is a thousand miles from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it.” (from here)
I understand from numerous personal experiences that forgiveness is better than revenge or holding a grudge.
Sting once sang about the poor in spirit, the meek, inheriting the earth: "What good is a used up world and how could it be worth having?" Being meek is a tricky thing, because it can easily be confused with weakness. Being meek is an inner strength which allows us to be humble and soft on the outside while strong as steel on the inside, keeping our morals and values intact.
As my DH has exemplified to me many times, a soft answer does turn away wrath. Holding a child and softly whispering words of correction is more effective communication than loud harsh words.
Cleaning our home and making it comfortable brings softness into our family. A sweet place to lay my burdens down, and I hope it is the same for those I love.
Instead of fearing the next painful blow life has in store, which seems inevitable, I look forward with hope. There is more in the future to embrace than there is to fear.
A welcoming hug, handshake, or smile to my fellowman could be seen as softness in the head. But I welcome the opportunity, no matter how small, to soften the life of another.soft and it is so much better that way.