Foolish Words

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. - Proverbs 18:21
I've been fond of words for as long as I can remember. It started out so bad that when I was 6 or 7 I went through a phase where I made every sentence rhyme; even if it produced nonsense as a result. This went on until my brother mocked me mercilessly out of the habit. But my love for words didn't die out.

Later I submitted a poem in fifth grade to a state competition titled, "Ninja Mom", for which I won some kind of rare stone I gave to my mother as a gift. In sixth grade my best friend and I started a small weekly publication called "The Stupidest Questions Ever" and we reached a circulation of about 50 between our two schools. We never made any money, but we were very impressed at people's interest in the things we wrote, no matter how seemingly unimportant.

With the discovery of the internet (I like to think of it as discovered rather than invented) by Al Gore, it is easier than ever to write and gain an audience.

About 5 years ago I began to blog right here for the first time with regularity. And six months later a good friend and I began The Sieve and the Sand, where many folks have been writing absurd amounts of mediocre poetry for years now. And I love it. Way more people than I ever imagined read my writing now (small beans by web standards but nonetheless). My most popular post of all time has become a write up I did on how to plant a church.

I am by far not the most qualified person to be writing about church planting, but people listen because I write regularly and therefore Google confused me with someone who knows something. And words have power.

A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. - Proverbs 15:4
And therein lies the problem, words have power. There is a good chance that girl I called ugly in front of my whole elementary school class never forgot what I said. After seeing the look on her face I never did either. Because while I meant very little to her, my words had power — terrible power.

This is why I am thankful for a little intervention my friends had with me yesterday. You can always be thankful before the Lord for friends who will call you out on your foolishness and do so lovingly.

These two friends sat me down to tell me I've been too fast and loose with my words. The tipping point was offending (unintentionally, but still) one of their brothers-in-law. But that was just the tipping point, the problem ran much deeper.

One friend said to me, "You desire to be known for your words. That will probably happen because of your personality. But what kind of words will you be known for?"

That hurt, in a good way, but nonetheless it's hard to be reminded I've been an ass with my words.

The other friend said, "You're overly bold because you think you can repair things later. So you don't worry about offending people now. And that's dangerous because someday you won't be able to repair things."

Both of these comments seriously hit home for me. I'm pretty fast and lose with my words because I am offended by so little I assume everyone else is the same way, even though I know that isn't the case. And I've always been able to repair things later if I messed up and been aware of it. But I haven't always been aware of it, and continuing to act like this will certainly hurt my witness.

Actually, the issue is not new. It isn't new to either of the friends who sat me down to talk about it, and it's been the primary issue in my marriage. My wife wishes I used my words better, and I often foolishly argue back that I do "just fine." If I were just a guy who didn't know Jesus I think I might be okay with that, but as a person seeking His glory and His Kingdom I want to get my act together.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. - James 1:26
I've written before about the hurt caused to me by a close friend in High School who basically told me he wasn't going to be my friend anymore. This happens to girls much more than men, but it nevertheless happened to me. And I was pretty devastated. In retrospect I think there is a good chance that it was my carelessness with my words (among other things) which drove that friend to frustration, and eventually ending our friendship.

Sadly, the very night my friend told me he was done with me, I offended another person. There was a girl hanging out with a bunch of us that night who was to turn out to be one of my best friends for many years. And I recall the look on her face that night, and it was not a happy face as I stood in a large crowd with many of my other closest friends — people around whom I completely let my guard down. Later that night she needed a ride home and I offered to drive her because I could tell I had rubbed her the wrong way. On the car ride home I was able to discuss some deep things with her and even pray for her a good bit before I got her home.

Years later she told me how angry she was with me that night, and how had I not driven her home and won her over, there is a good chance she would have never talked to me again. And she turned out to be one of my best friends! I've often looked at it as an example of being able to right my wrongs with my tongue, even arguing that it's better to make a mistake and apolgize than to never mess up. But especially after the discussion yesterday I no longer think that. Now I see it as a prime example of how I can mess things up with important relationships if I'm not careful.

Ever since that friend told me she almost never talked to me again, I have been much more careful with women than with guys. I work much harder to see that I've won them over before I proceed to make jokes with them.

But I'd like to shift gears, and care about the impact my words are making with everyone. It's true, I desire to be known by my words. I write terribly imperfectly, but I hope the words impact people and point them to Jesus. I speak terribly foolishly, but I hope my foolishness is exclusive to my attempts at loving people.

I definitely feel I'm called to speak boldly and often where no one else is willing. I won't always strike a good balance between speaking painful truth and doing it lovingly, but I certainly need to try. I'm incredibly thankful for my friends and their discussing this with me, and I hope I manage to take it to heart as well as actually change. I hope I understand the value of my words, the power of my words for good and evil, and I hope as a result I find better how to be like Christ with my words.

Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near - Philippians 4:5 (NASB)