It was a hectic morning trying to get our three kids off to school. I was carrying a cup of coffee as I walked into my office to get I-don’t-even-remember-what. A slightly bulging box rested on top of the blanket chest that sits under some bookshelves. It was from these bookshelves that I needed to get something (not a book) that had to do with the morning.
Being in too much of a hurry to walk across the room to set the coffee safely on my desk, I put my cup on the slightly bulging box. Can you guess what happened next? The box rocked a bit.
When I looked down and saw the box rocking gently, I reacted quickly. I reached down and grabbed the cup. In the process of grabbing the cup, I spilled the coffee.
I could — and probably should — draw the lesson from this event that I should just slow down enough to put the coffee in a safer place. But that’s not what sticks in my mind.
What I remember is that the coffee cup, though teetering a bit, was still safely on the box when I grabbed it. When I reacted quickly, grabbing for the coffee mug, I spilled it. Looking back on the situation, the coffee probably wouldn’t have spilled at all. I just got nervous. In my fear of spilling the coffee, I became anxious and reacted rapidly, causing the very thing of which I had been afraid.
Strange as it may seem, this caused me to think about relationships. How often have I, through rapid, anxious reaction, “spilled the coffee” in a relationship when a thoughtful and reflective pause would have brought about a better result? How often have I felt angry or hurt and, by reacting quickly and instinctually, “spilled the coffee”? How many times have I made things worse by my own reaction, perhaps even causing quarrels where none would have started?
There are all sorts of ways we “spill the coffee” in relationships. A quick retort. A hurtful word. A glaring silence. Stomping from the room. Dredging up old offenses and hurling them in the face of the one who is hurting us. Playing “eye-for-an-eye.”
The lesson here is that if you are talking to someone and feel yourself getting anxious, uptight, nervous, angry, scared — whatever you call it, you know what I’m talking about — those feelings may be reasonable. But it’s worth a pause, a moment of reflection, a deep breath before you react. It’s true the coffee may be spilling anyway. Whoever you are talking to might even be spilling the coffee on purpose. But just a moment of consideration before you respond may make a great deal of difference in how your conversation and your relationship proceed from there.
Pause. Think about how you are going to respond. Remember that the other person is an object of God’s love as much as you are. Remember that the other person is a person. A person with feelings. A person with a back story. Even if the hurt is intentional, why that person hurting you? You might be reaping a harvest someone else has sown. This may be a chance for you to bring love and peace into the other person’s life. Might a healthy does of grace do more for the other person and be the best thing for yourself, too?
A moment of reflection before you speak won’t fix everything. That’s for sure! But it can be very helpful. I can tell you from experience (as, I’m sure, you can tell me, too), that it’s much easier in the long run to avoid spilling rather than to clean up, whether you’re talking about relationships or coffee.