Until the past year or so this word had no profound meaning in my life. For something to be “triggered” meant for something to be activated. For instance, I may say, “The back door locking mechanism is triggered when you press the lock button on the front car door.” I was unaware that I, as a human being, could become “triggered.”
The “Urban Dictionary” (a rabbit hole of made up slang words and sayings), describes being “triggered” this way:
“Getting filled with hate or rage after seeing, hearing, or experiencing something you can’t stand.”
It further breaks the definition down in this way:
“1. When someone gets easily offended or gets their feelings hurt.
2. “When something sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to an event of trauma which the brain connects with certain words or images.”
Okay, let’s get something out in the open before we move on to the main point of this post. While I may poke a little fun at how trendy this word has become or how lightly it gets tossed around, I do want to acknowledge that the issue at hand is very real for people in general. We all have certain things in our lives that we consider “touchy subjects,” or things we would rather not hear or see that remind of things in our past. And while this post is not about becoming ultra-sensitive due to our overwhelming sense that we might offend someone with every single word we say, it is important to point out how dangerous the Book of James warns us our tongues can be:
“Look at the ships also, though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boast of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” James 3:4-5 (ESV)
As believers, we should be very cautious how we use such an instrument. It can give life, but it can take life, we should treat our words in this way. We aren’t given a pass on how we speak to others; even when it comes to someone we adamantly disagree with.
Now let’s move to the point of the post and look at the flip side of this coin. We now live in a culture where if we are “triggered” by someone’s “Molotov Cocktail” of a comment, we defend our right to return fire for fire. To steal a line from James, “brothers this should not be so.” Now, as people of faith, we are instructed to defend our faith; this is something we can not shy away from. But it is the nature in which we do this that the Bible seeks to change us from the inside out. Just because we know other people’s hurtful words can spark deep emotions, it does not give us the right to respond in those same deep seeded emotional and unbiblical ways. Whether it’s over a family meal, a social media message board, or in the middle of a public protest, the Bible seeks to “untrigger” us.
If we are really being honest, those of us who struggle the most with responding in anger toward others, it isn’t just about topics of faith, we are increasingly on edge with anything and anyone who doesn’t subscribe to our brand of living. To be honest, I’m writing this post because this is an issue I have struggled deeply with. I’ve often found while talking with other Christians who have a different perspective on biblical issues that I hold, to be an area where I get increasingly triggered, but I also have these same feelings when normal day to day interactions do not go the way I want them to go. We are far too easily triggered.
In the first chapter of the book of James, we are given this instruction:
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let EVERY person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” James 1:19 (ESV)
Are you “triggered” by that verse? I am. It doesn’t set easy with the way our sinful nature has conditioned our brains to interact. In fact, the way our sinful hearts write the “gospel-of-me” is like this:
“Get angry at the drop of a hat, speak instantly from the heat of that anger, and by all means do not ever stop to listen to anyone other than yourself.”
Again, being honest, that is how my brain wants to work. I might also try to convince myself that James is only instructing me on how to talk to other believers, but he makes it clear that this should be how “every person” converses. Let’s look at these three instructions the way the bible lays them out and explore, quickly, how we might apply them to any and all interactions we have.
- Be Quick to Listen (Hear): I am horrible at listening to others, most of the time someone is talking, I’m not truly listening, I’m too busy listening to the undertones of what they are saying or for words that typically push me over the edge. Stopping and truly listening to others is not something I am quick to do, yet it is one of the things Jesus did naturally. Like the woman at the Well or young ruler, he gave people a chance to speak. This shows care, concern, and kindness. These things should be our guide first in every conversation and interaction we have, this is why James lists this command first.
- Be Slow to Speak (Respond): One of the other main reasons I find it hard to listen to others, is the fact that, most of the time someone is talking, I’m not truly listening because I’m too busy thinking about what I am about to say in response. Instead of taking in what they are saying, and carefully weighing my words, I speak quickly, often will ill intentions. Notice, James doesn’t tell us not to speak but instead says we should do it slowly, with carefulness in our words.
- Be Slow to Anger: Lastly, on his list, James encourages us like Jesus before him in Matthew 5:22, not to be lead down a road of rage. While Ephesians 4:26 is often quoted to justify “Christian anger”, what “Being angry and sinning not,” actually means, is for us to quickly rid ourselves of that anger before it boils over onto others. This is why the verse ends with “…do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27). In other words, you will feel anger rising from time to time, but don’t sin by unleashing it, instead, let God’s spirit remove it from your heart. Once the anger is removed, you can clearly see how God wishes for you to respond to a situation. Let us not be quick to forget the words found in Proverbs 15:1:
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Simply, let’s not add fuel to the fire.
As I said earlier, as Christians we are called to stand up for our faith. Do not mistake what I am saying for an excuse to, a) listen to every opinion that exist, placing it on the same level as scripture, b) never speak up when you have an opinion that differs from someone you are talking to or c) never to be passionate about the things you believe and hold dear to your heart. Let me be clear we should always honor God’s word above people’s opinions, we should speak up and speak out, and we should be passionate, but we can never resort to doing any of these things with the flames of anger burning behind our eyes.
James continues, saying:
“For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Anger will never give us the results we are looking for, no matter if it’s a biblical discussion or trying to make sure the waiter gets our order right.
James goes on from there, with a verse that when quoted alone seems to have nothing to do with the issue of speaking in anger, but when read as a whole, it reveals that “anger” is the very “wickedness,” James is speaking of.
“Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” James 1:21
I love that in the middle of talking about anger, he says that we should instead do something in meekness. In so many ways, meekness is the opposite of anger. Many people will tell you that meekness is just another word for weakness, and while living a life of meekness may seem incredibly weak, what meekness actually means is that we let the Spirit of God control our emotions instead of letting them run rampant. If we truly want to inherit what God has for us, Jesus said that “meekness” is the key (Matthew 5:5)
There is a time and place for passionate responses, but we often pass off being “Spiritually Passionate” when we are actually raging with anger. As Christians there are things that should offend or “grieve” the Spirit of God living inside of us, this is a good thing. It’s in how we respond that we either become “doers of the word,” as James describes in verse 22. It’s in the response that we get to bear fruit to those with which we disagree, and it is our DEEDS that matter more than our words.
James begins to wrap up his first chapter in this way:
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
Let our religion not be worthless, instead let our conversations and interactions be seasoned with the salt of the Spirit, never with the anger of sin.
Spirit of God, help us to live, “untriggered.”
Grace and Peace to you.