In our small group, one of the prayer requests was “for God to teach me to think before I speak.” For some reason that really struck me, and I started to review some of the things I’ve said that I regret. Some things were just stupid; others were very hurtful. I can forgive myself for being stupid. It is much harder when my words are mean and hurtful.
When I was in high school, I briefly dated a young woman. Years later, I saw her again walking toward me with her fiancée. Surprised, I blurted out, “Mary, you gained weight!” Oh my, what have I done. Then, in an effort to save face, I said, “And it looks good on you.” How many times have I wanted to redo that moment. And then, there are the times that I asked a woman when her baby was due. Naturally she was deeply offended because she wasn’t pregnant. And then there are times when I’ve said things with the best of intentions, only to have them misunderstood. Once my sister talked about how pretty my mother was. After listening a couple minutes, I said, “But remember, Becky, beauty is only skin deep.” Yes, it came out wrong, my sister hit me and my dad muttered under his breath. I wanted to express that her beauty was more than superficial and went deeper than that. Another do-over? But I can forgive myself for being young, inexperienced, ignorant, and stupid.
Regrettably, I have said mean and hurtful things when I did not have the excuse of being young, inexperienced, stupid, or ignorant. Sometime after my divorce from my first wife, I was dating a woman with two kids. I remember sending her a break-up letter (this was before texting and email) and blaming it on her kids. It was a very hurtful letter and not true. I loved her kids. Her son was eventually best man at my wedding. I dated another woman briefly, and broke up with her. In that case, I did blame it on her son, and it was true. However, was that the loving thing to say, even if it was true? Could I have tried to communicate my desire to end the relationship without being mean or deliberately hurtful? Of course.
Anger and stress can make things worse. They can short circuit the rational side of my brain and allow me to say and do things that I normally wouldn’t consider. If I were cool and collected, would I make rude gestures towards the BMW that cut in front of me? If I were calm and rational, would I scream at Carol when she calls me in the basement when I’m in the middle of something? Regrettably, I have a short temper that I need to monitor constantly. It does not give me permission to do or say hurtful things. It is not an excuse. “In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Ephesians 4:26
I have had mean and hurtful things said to me. I have witnessed them said to others. Often, I hear, “Well, I’m only telling the truth!” Or, “I’m only being honest.” I know I am guilty of either saying or at least thinking those platitudes. It would be easy to use them as an excuse to be mean or hurtful. One of the men in our small group said, “Since when do I have to lie, to say something mean and hurtful? Most hurtful expressions are true or have some truth.” I am convicted to watch what I say: to think before I speak. What is the loving way to say something? “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt…” Colossians 4:6. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29
Now, if I could only have a do-over for all those times I put my foot in my mouth.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8