A dear Internet friend of mine was recently hurt by the words of a loved one. Her situation brought to mind the following story that is a favorite of mine and reminds us all to, not only choose our words carefully, but to use them to 'build up' and not to 'tear apart'. Our mouth can be a lethal weapon if used recklessly. Let us be mindful this holiday season to slow down and simply be kind to one another. And if we've hurt someone with our mouth, to mend our 'hurt' fences.
Did you hear the story of the little boy with a bad temper? Handing his son a bag of nails, the boy's father explains each time his son loses his temper and shouts angry hurtful words he must hammer a nail into the back of the wooden fence in their yard. On that first day 37 nails went into the fence. Over the next few weeks the boy began discovering it was easier to hold his temper and his tongue than trek all the way out to the back fence and pound those nails into the fence.
After some time the boy proudly approached his father and announced he had not lost temper at all for several days. His wise father suggested his son pull out one nail for each temper-free day. Finally, boasting that all the nails were gone, the boy takes his dad's hand and leads him to the fence without nails. "You have done well, my son. Now look at the holes in the fence. It will never be the same. When you say things in anger your words leave scars, just like these holes."
I've heard some people try to justify, rationalize or excuse their harsh words and disrespectful attitudes by proclaiming "You're just too sensitive, don't take it so seriously!" or "This is me...so get over it." "What's the big deal anyway?"
Anger itself is not evil, but unchecked angry and aggressive words can cause paralyzing fear, painful hurt, distancing and loss of intimacy. The truth is, harsh, harmful and hateful words can be just as deadly to our spirit as weapons of mass destruction are to our lives.
In Eph. 4:19 Paul reminds us it is okay to be angry, but don't sin--don't use damaging words, condemn or tear down someone's self-esteem. The sin doesn't lie in the expression of anger, but in the way we use it. We can choose to express anger in healthy or unhealthy ways--in ways that heal or hurt. There is a difference between getting angry and being an angry person. When the expression of anger dominates our life and personality we are no longer a person with anger, but an angry person.
A study, by Mary K. Biaggious, discovered students who were quick to express anger had less self-control, less tolerance and less flexibility than those who were able to keep their anger in check. Students who were slow to anger demonstrated more dependability and social maturity. Maybe that is why James 1:19 tells us to "be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger."
As a child I remember my mother telling me, "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all." This is not about stuffing or repressing anger, it is simply about respect and self-control. A word search in my Bible software found 2,315 references to "respect." One reference--the golden rule--to treat others as we want to be treated (Matt. 7:12), is truly about respecting others as well as loving them with honor and respect.
Galatians 5:14-15 states "...Love your neighbor as yourself. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." Paul is clear, "biting and devouring" is not how we are to treat others, not in the church, not in the home, not anywhere. Some verses later Paul provides us with a list of guideline for our actions. He calls them "fruits of the spirit." His list includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindess, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Words are powerful. They can tear down or build up those closest to us. In the story above, the boy's wise father gently, but effectively pointed out the destruction angry words produce, and the permanency of their scars. Maybe now is a good time to look at your own words and actions. Is your talk and walk matching? Have you left holes in someone's fence? Are you still leaving holes? Is it time for a change? Choosing words to build up and not tear down requires a conscious choice and a commitment to change. Change may require asking for forgiveness and the willingness to give up power, control and intimidation that accompanies harmful, hurtful words. Change can be an incredible act of vulnerability as well as love. Do people refer to you as an "out of control angry person" or as one who is "respectful and respected"? There is incredible strength in "self-control"-- not weakness. Be careful. Don't fall into the trap of "biting and devouring" one another. Proverbs 12:18 says, "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Reckless words can rip the ones we love into pieces. Words that build up and are patient, kind, good, gentle and loving create peace. Which is it? Pieces or peace?
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