Watch those words

Watch those words

I have often, over the years, written about the power of words — both those that hurt and wound and those that help and heal. The Book of James teaches about the tongue and how powerful it is when used in anger or insult. I read Chapter 3 three times this week because I wanted to understand it as best I could.

We learn that James compared the human tongue to many things, and he wrote, “Even though the tongue is a little member, it boasts great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindles” (James 3:5). He urged Christians to keep their tongues under control and to carefully think over words before they spew them out to others.

I ask the dear Lord for column ideas every day of my life. I have always said that writers are somewhat like sponges. They must soak up truth before they can give it out in a clear message. My all time favorite place to think is sitting on the end of the wooden pier in the warm sunshine.

Personally witnessing two incidents in the last few days made me think again of the power of the tongue. A precious little boy who looked tired and weary of shopping was sitting in a cart near where I was purchasing groceries. I assume the lady that spoke so sharply to him was his mother and I know the child was frightened of what he anticipated coming his way because he winced and drew back as far as he could get from her. The woman lashed out and called him stupid and dumb and several other words.

I had not observed the child doing anything wrong, but at any rate, he did not deserve the barrage of anger he received. I must in all honesty say that the young mother look frazzled and tired, and perhaps she had been dealing with the horrors of the flooding and loss in our area during that week. But still, those hateful words directed at that precious child were almost more than I could take.

Three days later, I found myself in what folks refer to as one of the big box stores where I was looking at lawn mowers. Mine is in pretty bad shape, and I know I am going to have to purchase one soon for spring cutting. Near me, also looking at the mowers, was an older couple. She was neatly dressed, pleasant and friendly. We had said hello to each other and laughed about men’s fascination with the big toys. The gentleman and the salesperson were discussing the various sizes of engines, how the decks were welded on, size of tires, width of cutting blades, and the prices.

The woman said something about one of the mowers she liked to her husband and without warning, he lashed out at her, and said, “You have gone to aggravating me now.” She tried to muster a brave look and a weak smile, but I could sense she was close to tears. Her apparent sad behavior made the man even angrier and he rather screamed out the second time, “You know I don’t like you to aggravate me. Just shut up!” She quietly turned away to keep from making a bigger scene and walked quickly out of the store.

I could not believe what I had witnessed. With his hateful words, he had crushed her spirit in front of absolute strangers. The salesperson did not know what to do, and I certainly did not interfere. I did not even know this guy, but I was furious.

I wanted to share with him the teaching from the Book of James, but I feared it would fall on deaf and perhaps dangerous ears. My first thought was that if he talked to her that way in public, what must their home life be like? His words hurt her, and she was embarrassed at his behavior. How long had this been going on in their lives? Was he ever nice? What made him think he had the right to humiliate her in this manner? I thought, “Buddy, you had best be very glad you are not married to me.”

The point is do we think, or perhaps pray, before we open our mouths and speak words that hurt? Do we speak nicely to strangers or co-workers and treat our family terribly behind closed doors? Have we ever been guilty of hurting someone, especially in public and if so, have we made it right?

Let’s be careful with the words we choose to use because they will either hurt or help.