Wednesday, February 22, 2012

That Sharp Tongued Devil

It felt good... really good! I was on fire and the words were coming almost too fast to get out. I was making my point and relieving all the pressure that had built up from months of injustice, lies and mocking. The tirade flowed from my tongue like honey drips from a spindle. It was easy. I was careful not to use foul language but my words were sharp. Sharpened like a prisoners shank, I was wielding my weapon with lithe steps, darting in and out, wounding efficiently for the most devastating effect.

All of that being said, I finally walked away from the verbal battle. Disappointed, I had realized that my words were falling on the ground like rain. They were not sinking in to the target at all. They were not wounding anything, or so I thought. It would be another week or so before the wounds would show and surprisingly they would show up on me. Those words turned on me and cost me dearly, both in reputation and in consequence. The words I had intended for one target had ricocheted and wounded a completely different relationship. It was a costly lesson.

I don't think it is any big secret that I have a temper. I know this about myself and I know that there are folks out there who have expounded on that fact with much speculation over my marriage, my business sense and my religion. I get that and because of my sharp tongue it is well deserved. I need to let it be known, however, that I am far from proud of this fact. In fact, with my gathering maturity (anyone cracks wise on that, and - well...) I have come to realize that my tongue, sharpened instrument that it is, can be a source of great humiliation and deepest sorrow. While we all dream of letting someone have it, the wisest among us know it is much better to walk away chewing on our retort than to let it fly. It is a demonstration of self-control that not many can master.

The Word is full of advice on the matter. Wonder why? Well, we shouldn't. James chapter 3 has an entire 12 verses devoted to how untamable and evil our mouths can be. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can't tame a tongue-it's never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. (James 3:7, 8 MSG) A wanton killer, really? That's a bit dramatic, isn't it? uh, well... sort of. I do think, however, that those of us not likely to arm ourselves physically with a gun or knife and storm out to dispatch our enemies think little of letting fly insults and verbal injury when we are provoked.

Oh yes! When we feel we are justified in our anger we can come up with some doozies to spout off and our memory gets so sharp and clear, you would think we were geniuses blessed with eidetic capabilities the likes of which no one has seen. We aren't the first ones either. Remember David from the last post? He is oft times referred to as The Great Man of God. Very cool title to be remembered by throughout history, don't you think? Did you also know that David had a temper? If you read the Bible at all, you do know this. He was not above using his sword to further his own desires, just ask Uriah, Bathsheba's husband. In Psalm 39, we see another side of David, before he checked out the nude bather on the balcony below. This was a David more frustrated by his circumstances before he became king of Israel. I'm determined to watch steps and tongue so they won't land me in trouble. I decided to hold my tongue as long as Wicked is in the room. (Psalm 39:1 MSG) He is trying desperately here to make the right decisions. He knows he can be rash and blurt out things that can't be taken back. He is trying to keep a handle on his tongue. Reading the entire Psalm reminded me so much of the frustrations I feel at times.

Proverbs also has warnings about running off at the mouth. A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim. (Proverbs 15:1, 4 MSG) Notice what it doesn't say. It doesn't say, cutting words get your point across. It doesn't say, a sharp tongue will keep people from hurting you. It says that no matter what you think about your justifications, your words will become weapons if used rashly. You will have more to fight about and more damage to clean up later, if you can heal the damage at all. No matter how justified you are, no matter how much you are hurt, it is never an excuse to use your words to hurt another person.

Words are insidious weapons, they go on hurting your victim long after they have been spoken. They are recalled in the mind over and over, relived and rehashed for eternity, no matter how many apologies have been issued. That's the thing about words, once they have been spoken, you can never get them back. My words will always color how people see me. Things I spoke or wrote years ago will follow me forever. If they were uplifting things, that's wonderful. If they were cutting words, they wound that person over and over, each time they are heard in the recesses of their mind. I know this from experience as I am sure you do too. There are words that I have in my mind's library that will creep up and hit me when I least expect it. Words that tell me I am unworthy, useless, pathetic and filthy. They cannot be erased. They are there for eternity. I can beg God to allow me respite because I know He wants me to be freed from them. I know that God doesn't see me that way. I know that He wants to use me for His glory. If I am mired in hateful speech that just isn't possible.

I am learning that not everything needs said. In the land of Facebook and Twitter, it is so tempting to get caught in a maelstrom of harsh words. We all have our causes and we want people to take notice of what stirs our hearts. That is completely understandable. But when our words wound others, when we throw out the desire to shed light for the desire to be right, when we talk over others because we are afraid we aren't being heard we completely miss the boat. God will take up our causes when they are an extension of His glory. It isn't our job to make sure everyone hears, it is only our job to be obedient to His purpose. Proverbs delivers the best advice once more: Watch your words and hold your tongue; you'll save yourself a lot of grief. (Proverbs 21:23 MSG)

I am working on my tongue. I know it is a hard row to hoe, but the best gifts aren't easy to attain. I will fail. I will also succeed at times. Ecclesiastes 3 encourages me that there is a time for everything if I am patient enough to wait. It reminds me that God is the Master Planner and that nothing escapes His sight. No matter how impatient I am with His time table, I'm trying to take verse 7 to heart: ...A right time to shut up and another to speak up. (Ecclesiastes 3:7 MSG) And it's time to shut up...