Controlling the Fire

On Saturday, I tiredly stood in line at the airport store with two cokes in my hand. I took a step forward as one person finished paying and the next person moved up to the cashier. Quite suddenly and without any warning whatsoever, I was unexpectedly assailed by the woman standing in front of me. Move back!! There is a law to stay back five feet! Thank you! She scolded angrily.

Before I could even really see her face, she had whirled back around. 

I eyed her back distastefully, stayed where I was, and took a look around me. I had not invaded her personal space in any way. I was several feet behind her already. There were no signs on the wall nor marks on the floor indicating any “rule”. I was not only perturbed and puzzled but, strangely, I felt hurt by this stranger who I would never, ever see again. 

(And, honestly, I respect her fear. If she felt strongly about the “stay back five foot” rule that she apparently lives by, she still could have said it in a kind and loving way. Sometimes we do need to communicate something that isn’t pleasant. But it need not be said unpleasantly.)

As I reflected on this later, I couldn’t help but contrast her rude and unnecessary behavior to another conversation I had after that. Standing in line with a Southwest Mechanic at Chick-Fil-A, he was kind and friendly. What a difference!

These conversations reminded me of our effect on others every day. Strangers, acquaintances, family, friends, and co-workers. Every single person we talk to may be cheered or hurt by us. We can encourage or we can discourage. We can build up or we can tear down. All of this is with our words.

James says that our tongues are like a fire (James 3:6). Fire is deadly and can cause terrible destruction. But used in the right way, it can be a blessing of warmth in the cold. It is used to cook, to heat our homes, to mold precious metals. But fire must always be controlled.

And so it is with our tongues. We can use them for such good purposes or we can lose control and they can cause great damage.

Do you remember that old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”?

Well, it’s not true. I bet each one of you can remember something that someone has said to you that was hurtful. Words do hurt. They hurt a LOT.

We will never have a conversation with most of the people we see and run into every day. But when God gives us the opportunity to talk with someone, it should be our desire to leave them feeling loved and encouraged.

If you are like me, you will find this hardest to do with your own family. It is often much easier to be kind to a stranger. But in our families, where we feel free to let our guards down and where past hurts and frustrations mar the relationship…well, then it is not quite so easy. I find myself so easily saying unkind words to my own husband. I don’t mean to. But they are often out before I catch them. There goes that destructive tongue again! Ughhhh.

We don’t get free passes to sin at home. I think sometimes we act like we do, don’t we? We put on a nice show when we are out and about but change how we treat others when we are in our own homes.

I am so very thankful for my husband, who forgives me over and over again. Of course, I do the same for him when he says hurtful and unkind things to me. It’s part of marriage. It’s part of family. Letting things roll and forgiving much. It’s the only way to make any relationship work.

But in the midst of all of the rolling and forgiving, we must not–we cannot–stop working on how we speak to one another. We don’t want to get lazy in our efforts to really love one another.

So will you join me in really considering how we use our tongues today? Let’s make an effort to encourage and build up, both at home and out and about. Not only when we are happy but also when we are really frustrated. Both when we feel like being nice and when we don’t feel like being so nice.

It’s easy to be kind when we feel like being kind. But there are no conditions on kind and edifying words. We are to speak them always. We are to always be carefully controlling the fire that is our tongue. A true challenge for us all.

QUICK NOTE: On Friday I will begin a brand new Christmas Story. It is so hard to believe it is that time of year again already! I recently compiled my prior Christmas stories into a book that I have made available on Amazon. It includes all of the stories written so far, along with one new one. (That particular story will only be available in the book. I plan to write a brand new one here for the blog this coming month.) You can find the book here.

By the way…if you have already purchased the book and have enjoyed it, I would so appreciate your positive review on Amazon. That would be a real blessing to me. :)

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