Sunday, September 25, 2022

Listen Now, Discuss Later (Proverbs 25:20)


Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda. [Proverbs 25:20, ESV]

From my experience in dealing with trials in my life, I knew immediately what this verse was talking about. When people are suffering, the worst thing we can do is try and figure out what happened, why it happened, how to fix it, or who is at fault. This lesson is important for all of us to understand, but especially for us men. As a man, I have seen numerous examples of this scenario in my own life, and in the lives of other men:

A girlfriend/wife/mother/sister is upset about something, the man learns about the way she feels, the man tries to figure out how to address the situation, the situation is made worse.

The reason why I specifically address men in this essay is because of the way that men tend to think. Generally speaking, men seem to think in terms of “how can this be resolved” or “how should this be addressed”, rather than spending time to deal with the emotions that come with whatever issue comes up. Women, on the other hand, tend to spend more time on the emotional aspect of an issue. Men and women are equally valuable, but they are different. One of the most amazing parts about how God created us in His Image is that men and women have different capabilities that complement each other.

All that to say, if you are a man, and you have a girlfriend/wife/sister/mother or whatever else, and she is upset about something, spend some time listening.

This verse reminds me of the story of Job. For those of you who are not familiar with Job, let me summarize the story:

Job is a strong man of God. Satan tells God that if Job’s possessions were taken from him, Job would curse God to His Face. God tells Satan that he can take Job’s possessions, but he cannot harm Job. Satan destroys Job’s property, kills Job’s servants, and kills his children. To make things even harder on Job, Satan did all of those things on the same day. Job hears, from people coming and reporting to him, what had happened. Job tears his robe, shaves his head, then falls to the ground and worships God. Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

Satan returns to God, telling Him that, if he could take Job’s health from him, surely he would curse God to His Face. God gives Satan permission to harm Job, but Satan is not able to kill him. Satan returns to Job and gives him sores all over his body.

Job’s wife asks Job why he continues to praise the Lord. His wife suggests that Job “curse God and die” [Job 2:9, ESV], but Job tells his wife that she speaks “as one of the foolish women would speak”. No matter what, Job did not sin with his lips.

Three of Job’s friends find out about what had happened to him, and they all travel to visit him. When they saw Job, “they did not recognize him” [Job 2:11, ESV]. His friends raised their voices, wept, and tore their robes, out of sadness over what happened to Job.

The point of me explaining the story of Job is so that the next verse makes sense to the point of this essay:

And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. [Job 2:13, ESV]

When his friends saw how much Job was suffering, his friends knew what they needed to do: shut up for a moment!

When people are going through something difficult, we must give them time to grieve. Do not leave them alone, do not ignore them, but give them time. The majority of the book of Job is about the back-and-forth between Job and his friends. His friends tell Job that he must have done something to deserve what had happened to him, that Job needed to repent, and that he actually deserves worse than what had already happened to him. These friends end up making Job’s situation even worse for him. Not only had he lost his property, lost his children, and been afflicted with sores all over his body, his friends were now accusing him of doing something to deserve what had happened to him!

(The book of Job ends with God contrasting His power to Job’s weakness, Job retracting what he had said about God, Job repenting, God rebuking Job’s friends, and God giving Job more than he had to begin with.)

Let us examine the verse from Proverbs:

Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like who who takes off a garment on a cold day,...

Singing songs (in this context, at least) is a way of expressing one’s joy. I write a lot about the joy I feel, but the things I write are for me (primarily). If I wanted to show everybody how much joy I feel in my heart, I would sing songs, so that everybody could hear how much joy I have. The expression of joy can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be detrimental to others. For example, singing songs to a person who is really sad would be detrimental to the sad person. It would be like removing clothing when it is really cold outside. If it is cold, one would already be suffering, but to remove clothing from him would make the cold even harder to bear. Not only would removing clothing on a cold day cause one to suffer more, it would make the cold more noticable. The contrast between joy and grief is very great. When a grieving person sees a joyful person celebrating, the contrast between the two people causes the grieving person to suffer more than he was suffering before. When a joyful person sees a grieving person, the joyful person begins to lose his joy.

…and like vinegar on soda.

This is the second way that this verse describes the effect of singing songs to a heavy heart. The meaning of this portion of the verse is less obvious than the previous portion. I prefer the way that this part of the verse is translated in the New Living Translation (NLT):

“...[and] pouring vinegar in a wound.”

In conclusion, singing songs to a heavy heart would be like removing clothes from somebody who is cold, or pouring vinegar into a wound; it makes things even worse.

When somebody is suffering, take a moment, listen to them, and let them have time to grieve. When they have been able to have some time to get through their emotions, then there can be discussions about what to do next. Do not rush into trying to solve issues, especially when it involves the way others feel.

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