Back in the late ‘90s, I drove my four kids around in a giant custom van. You know, the kind that is almost tall enough to stand in, with screen windows and reclining captain’s seats in the back? We debated, trying to decide if it was worth our ‘cool’ reputation (like a mini-van was any cooler), but we thought, “What the heck. We’re only going to be in this season briefly and we like to go camping and take long road trips – it will be perfect!” Our kids probably have great memories of that van. My dad affectionately called it the “BFI dumpster” for all the kid trash that accumulated in it.
But it was a beast. I was in stop-and-go traffic once and turned for a glance at my daughter. The traffic had started moving again as I looked at her, but then, CRASH! To my dismay, it had stopped just as quickly, and I hit the car in front of me. I swear, I couldn’t have been going more than five miles per hour, but it caused a chain reaction that involved four cars. Expensive damages. Big insurance hikes. I sprained my ankle trying to brake suddenly. My 5-year-old in the back seat was crying hysterically.
My confidence was so strangely shaken. I remember thinking, “Who am I to think I have the right to drive?” I was afraid to get behind the wheel for a long time. At least until I had to take someone to baseball practice or something.
I’ve had that same ‘confidence-shake’ with relationships, too. Just when I think I am ambling along through life, talking, talking, talking, dispensing my thoughts to everyone around me like I’ve got something great to share – BANG! I say something hurtful, unkind, thoughtless. I offend. I discourage. I misunderstand. This has happened a few times recently, and it gives me that punch-in-the-gut feeling that I shouldn’t be talking at all, I do not have anything helpful to say, and everyone would be better off if I put myself on mute.
You would think someone who’s been walking with Jesus for 50+ years would not make such rookie mistakes, but I feel like I’m making them more and more. Is my filter coming down? Am I developing early dementia? Or am I more conscientious about this now, more sensitive to the Holy Spirit prompting me to course correct? I am certainly more aware of God’s grace.
Just yesterday, a group text came in from a relative of my husband’s that was offensive, bossy, and rude. Bullying, actually. I was offended for my husband. I wanted him to stick up for himself and punch back. And I told him so. I ranted about this family bully for too many minutes while he stood there, kind of shell-shocked.
These relationships within our extended family have been challenging on many levels, for many years. We have recently begun to see improvement, but my words last night cut into the progress we had made. I did not build him up, but, with my own hands, tore down this house we had been building (Proverbs 14:1). I should have encouraged him; this person was probably experiencing a challenge, was exhausted, and needed prayer so, “Hey, why don’t we pray together?” My knee-jerk reaction should have been grace. But just like that moment I took my eye off the road, I reacted carelessly and really screwed up.
There are so many scriptures about the tongue. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19 NIV*). Yep, there it is. I should have held my tongue.
He who guards his lips guards his soul (Proverbs 13:3). “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2). Yep, me again.
And my personal favorite is Proverbs 18:21, which says, “The tongue has the power of life and death…” I know better. What was I thinking? My confidence as a mature Christian woman was sorely shaken. I felt like crawling into a cave and not speaking to anyone for fear of messing up again.
I spent the evening in prayer, in confession to God and my husband. I called on the grace of God that I have learned to trust in. I woke early this morning with a fresh perspective and awareness of the frailty of my human state. I am inclined to disobey, miss the mark, drift toward too many thoughtless words, but God’s abundant grace is right there, ready.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
—2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV
Oh, how grateful I am for this confidence! Philippians 3:8-9 says, “I consider everything a [dead] loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law (or in this case, confidence in my own ‘wise’ words), but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
*Unless otherwise noted, the verses in this post are from the 1978 edition of the NIV, which is no longer in print, but still available online.