Even those not up to speed on their Bible trivia have heard the phrase “Don’t go to bed angry.” It has a rap as generic advice, something we have all heard, but the reality of this biblical command is that we should all be practicing this step daily.
One wife and mother learned this truth in the most painful way imaginable. Ashley Murrell, a 33-year-old wife and mother of three young children, became frustrated with her husband’s long work hours. It is a complaint many wives have voiced before.
After one sixteen-hour work day, Ashley decided enough was enough. She told Faith It that her husband Mikey “was so exhausted… he was running himself into the ground and his health was going downhill fast.” She was seeing the physical effects of all the hours he had put into work and noted that on one particular night he was worse than ever. “I have never seen him so exhausted. I couldn’t stand seeing him like that and I got angry. I was sick of it.” Ashley said that after their argument, she told him to sleep on the couch.
The next morning, however, Ashley awoke to find that her husband had died in his sleep, alone on the couch. She says that she lives with guilt. “I was so angry with myself for making him sleep on the sofa,” she said. “I still find it so hard to think that my last words to him were out of anger.”
Ashley says that her husband put in the long hours and hard work for their family. He had been known to work extra just so the family could take an annual trip to Disney. She later learned that Mikey had been working so hard to surprise her with an anniversary trip to Prague for just the two of them. “Losing Mikey has changed my entire perspective on life. Life is too short to go to bed angry,” she explained.
Ephesians 4 tells us how to live at peace with one another. In fact, that is exactly where this oft-heard advice comes from. The chapter begins with an urging to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” What a great reason to pursue peace. In all of our actions, our conversations, our disagreements, we represent the calling of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we are to bear “with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Christ.”
Sounds like a tall order. One way we can pursue this unity is to look for the good in others instead of dwelling on their flaws. My husband is amazing at finding the good in people; I am an expert on the latter. I understand that this is a challenging command for many (myself included). Our world is saturated with outlets to beat each other up, but Christians are not called to tear down. Because of the love of Christ, and what He has endured for my sin, surely I can endure a quirk of my coworker. Because of His sacrifice, I can work to find ways to encourage and build up a person who often disagrees with me. If there is an offense so great I cannot overlook it in love, scripture is clear I should go and seek to remedy the problem. Unless the issue is a matter of sin, or something you cannot release from your thoughts of the person, we can choose to overlook it out of love.
But, you say, how can I be a good conflict resolver if I am exhausted from a long day? Never fear! This command does not say you have to solve all the problems of the world at three in the morning. It does not even say you have to resolve all of the problems between you and another person. However, you should talk until you both agree that although you may still have different opinions, out of love, you can let go of your anger, knowing you will revisit the problem when everyone is well rested.
In my home, most of the arguments happen in the evening. The reason is simply that we are both home and interacting the most during those hours. Any tensions from the day tend to come to a head once the kids are in bed. Sometimes I think God arranged things this way just to see if I will obey this command. I am a morning person, which means I go to bed early. My husband and I joke that my brain expires for the day at roughly 10 p.m. But I have watched the clock tick well past my bedtime on more than one occasion, praying and asking God to give us both wisdom so we can talk about a disagreement.
God lays down some ground rules for these discussions in the verses that follow this directive.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up… Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Did you see any of your weaknesses in those adjectives? I sure did. I would encourage you to read Ephesians 4 again before you attempt to work through a late-night conflict. Season your conversations with these guidelines and you will find a way to go to bed at peace with one another.
If your argument is with someone outside of your home, the command still stands. You may not feel comfortable calling a neighbor in the wee hours of the night, but I would encourage you to make the first step in resolving the conflict. A text or an email can let the other person know that you are thinking about what happened and want to resolve the issue as soon as possible. I once had an email go to the wrong person. The words were not harsh, but they made a person feel unappreciated. I discovered the error at the end of my workday. I called multiple times, sent an email and prayed God would open the door to resolve the conflict that night. Unfortunately, the other person did not contact me until the next day. I went to bed at peace, however, knowing that as far as it depended upon me (Romans 12:18), I had done everything I could to bring peace to the tension.
Ashley Murrell had to face the consequences of these commands in a tragic way. We can learn from her heartache and remember that there are consequences for ignoring the biblical solutions for conflict.