Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, and we talked for almost three hours. My friend is thoughtful and articulate and wise, and I just lost track of time because she is so easy to talk to. Even though we discussed some hard realities, I came away encouraged because she is full of the joy of the Lord.
Our conversation was pleasant and easy, but one of the things my friend and I discussed was how hard it can be to talk with our teens. Sometimes it seems the harder I try to communicate, the more likely I am to say the very thing that causes my child to shut down. Knowing what to say and how to say it and when to say it and what tone to use seems to require some sort of advanced degree that I don’t have, and to make matters more complicated, each child seems to require his own special language. Thankfully, my friend and I could commiserate because we shared the same struggles. I remembered a wise thing an older parent once told me: the first ten years of parenting, he said, it’s all about what you do say, and the second ten years, it’s all about the things you refrain from saying. I have not always remembered that good advice. One time I informed my son, in a not-quiet voice, that my tongue was probably bloody from biting back all the things I was NOT saying to him. Hmmmm.
In our plugged-in, networking world we not only have to control our tongues, we have to control our fingers. One need look no further than @realDonaldTrump to see the effects of ungoverned speech run rampant, but you don’t need a Twitter account to type your way into trouble. I learned the hard way not to joke over the internet: One year my father-in-law sent an email to my husband and me: “Jeff, what do you and the boys want for Christmas?” No mention of wondering what my little heart might desire. I fired back a snarky response, intended for my husband only- “Guess I made the naughty list, huh?”- but I accidentally hit reply all. You know the misery that follows a text or email sent irretrievably on… We Harrises are not the only ones who do not always have a “word fitly spoken... like apples of gold in settings of silver” on the tips of our tongues. (Proverbs 25:11)
Not a man to mince words, James has some strong comments about the destructive power of the tongue:
If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, if we put bits in horses mouths’ that they may obey us, we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so, the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell... But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. James 3:2-10
Before you get too discouraged, let me share the verse that comes before this diatribe: James says, “For we all stumble in many things.” (verse 1) Surely a man who speaks this strongly said a few things that he regretted. Many biblical historians believe that this James was actually the half-brother of Jesus, and an important early church leader. But James did not always believe his Brother was the Messiah; in fact, Mark tells us that Jesus’s family tried to stop His preaching, saying, “He is out of His mind.” (3:21) Strong words. When Jesus saw His mother and brothers, who came to retrieve Him and to stop His embarrassing behavior, He responded, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” Jesus proceeds to assert that his mother and brothers are only those who believe in His Father, and by that He is not referring to Joseph. (3:33-35)
A very blunt and hurtful exchange between these brothers taught James much about the power of the tongue, and how much more powerful the memory would become when James realized that every word Jesus spoke was true. James had experience, as every one of us does, with the fire a tongue can set.
But if words have destructive power, so, too, do words have enormous, glorious creative power. As James says, we have power to curse, but we also have power to bless. My friend blessed me at lunch because she spoke truth to me. Without pretending that everything in her life was perfect, she spoke hope. Without sounding preachy or pious or holier-than-thou, she spoke joy. She spoke life and peace and she made me laugh, a lot. Our world today needs truth and light more than ever. God, grant us the desire and the inspiration to speak, write, type, and yes, even tweet, life-giving words that glorify You.
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