by Danetta Kellar
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. -James 1:19
The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues. -Proverbs 17:27-28
We had just returned to the United States after spending the genesis of our parenting years in Africa. Away from cable TV. Away from pop music. Away from hand-held gaming devices. We were tiptoeing through our new home culture like soldiers in a mine field.
My five-year-old son came home from school one day, singing and shaking his bootie to the words, “Pants on the ground, pants on the ground...” you know the rest.
Blood pressure rising, I shouted, “Do. Not. Sing. That. Song. That man has just done a very naughty thing and that is why his pants are on the ground and he looks like a fool!”
The boys were staring at me like I had grown a sparkling unicorn horn.
Something inside me was warning me, like a quiet, insistent blinky light on the car dashboard. Maybe you are over-reacting. You’ve never heard this song before right now.
I closed the door to my bedroom and Googled the lyrics. Everyone knows that you look there first to find proof to support your presumptions, right?
The rest is comical family history.
Moments later, we were all gathered around the screen laughing as we watched the endearing American Idol performance by a very sincere General Larry Platt. This aging civil rights activist was making an insightful statement about culture, not at all what I had assumed in my over-reaction. I was the foolish one now.
Pants on the ground is not such a bad metaphor for how foolish we can feel when we realize we have spoken before thinking. Before gathering all the information, laying aside our own opinions, our own grid, our own worldview, we can jump to wrong conclusions.
Not all will end with the humor mine did that particular day. But I learned a lesson that I keep learning each time I open my mouth without first getting the facts, without taking pause to think:
Anyone who is careful about what he says keeps himself out of trouble. -Proverbs 21:23
We need to be more careful. Thoughtless, opinionated words cannot be unsaid. In the rush to gush, we sweep wisdom aside and harm one another with our words.
People remember what we say, sometimes for a lifetime.
When my children were small, we played a game to teach the power of words. Each child would receive a pile of Legos, placed in a central location. Throughout the day, as one spoke words that "built up" and encouraged another person, he or she added a brick to build a structure. Conversely, if one spoke words that hurt or were careless, a brick was removed. By the end of the day, whoever had a complete structure received a reward.
As they enjoyed their tangible reward of a chore pass, or a sweet treat, or whatever might be the reward of the day, I quietly rejoiced inside to think of the greater reward of friendship, community, and goodwill they were building in their lives.
I wonder what we are building today with our words.
If I look at my Twitter feed, my Facebook page, my phone conversations, my private monologue as I drive down a traffic-jammed interstate during rush hour, is there a pile of rubble, or a nice tower? What about my inner dialogue? Do I have a running attitude of complaining? Am I building up my inner man with the enrichment of God's truth, or my own opinions, dissatisfactions, and unforgiveness?
Our thoughts can be anchored in what is good and true, leading to words which are life-giving and nourishing to those around us.
We anchor them in this way by daily time in God's Word. I have found it helpful to read a chapter of Proverbs and a chapter of Psalms each day. Proverbs shows us how to communicate with our fellow human beings, and Psalms shows us how to communicate with God.
If your words have left you looking foolish, do something a fool would never do.
Own up to them, and seek forgiveness if needed. Spend time each day in God's Word, the Bible, filling your thoughts with things that are true and good. Then go forth and build something beautiful in the world around us through the power of thoughtful words.
Finally, my brothers and sisters, always think about what is true. Think about what is noble, right and pure. Think about what is lovely and worthy of respect. If anything is excellent or worthy of praise, think about those kinds of things. -Philippians 4:8