Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Think Before You speak
Have you ever wished you could take back a few words? Or -- wished that someone -- some kind friend -- had taped your mouth shut for you?
This was one of my worst flaws when I was younger. From the time I was in elementary school, until I was in my 20s, I struggled with watching my quick tongue. As a matter of fact, this dysfunction caused my Most Embarrassing Moment, which I will now relate, so you can understand why I changed myself:
When I was a single 20-something, I worked in a church office as a secretary. It was a large church with a Christian school, and lines of students always filed quietly up and down the hallways. One little boy in 4th grade or so, had a physical defect; he'd been born without arms. I'd seen him occasionally. He seemed well-adjusted and secure in himself. I didn't know him personally, but was aware he was in the school.
But you know how it is, when you're a talker-before-thinker: you forget all those helpful things your brain knows. You blurt out. In your desire to say something clever, or cute, or funny, or impressive, you fall flat on your face, verbally speaking. Thus I did, with this little boy.
As I walked down the church hall one day, a class of children were filing past me, coming the other way. One was a boy with no arms hanging out of his sleeves. I didn't recognize him, and my mind thought, "Ah! A boy who's playing that silly childhood game -- he's got his arms tucked inside his shirt! How cute!" So, as I walked by him, I smiled brightly (in front of ALL his friends), and said, "Look, Mom! No hands!" (Or "no arms," or something equally stupid.)
And about two seconds after I'd walked past him, I realized to my dismay, shame and horror, that I'd just addressed a child who really didn't have any arms or hands.
It still pains me to remember.
I didn't turn around and further humiliate myself by trying to extricate myself from my puddle of stupidity. I walked on, and I imagine it was better for the boy that I did. Later, I spoke with his teacher, who was a friend of mine, and (as I remember it) apologized to her, and tried to explain myself. She assured me that the boy was used to such things, and it didn't bother him. "Great!" I thought. "A 4th grader who is more mature than I am." And it was true.
And that was when I decided to take this horrible habit, and eradicate it from my life. It had become horribly damaging. It had caused me trouble all through school, and into college. I was constantly spouting some silliness from the mouth. It was a show of insecurity, on my part, I think. I was determined to rid myself of it. I began forming the habit of thinking about my words before I spoke them, quickly imagining them in the air of the conversation and assessing what impact they would have. I have since saved myself from many shameful moments. I get better and better, even now, at holding my tongue. I still embarrass myself at times, but each time I do, it emboldens to keep working on this sin.
So, lately I was saddened to realize that my children suffer with the same awful trait -- not all of them, and not all to the same extent I did. But I have a child who is already shaming him/herself in this way, and is already angry about it -- with a healthy, self-directed anger -- wanting to change. How I hope he/she won't have the years of painful learning that I did! A recent situation revealed this to me, and although I know others had more condemning reactions to my child, my heart felt only compassion. I know that remorse and embarrassment. I know it is a first, healthy step toward change.
"For we all stumble in many ways," says James, "and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man .... And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.... no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." (James 3: 2-8)
I'm sorry to say that some people aren't aware of the hurt that their words cause. We should all ask God to open our eyes to the impact of our words on others, and on ourselves.