There are certain things in life I want to hide. And appropriately so, I suppose. Once I had a reaction to some outdoor plant. Maybe it was poison oak or sumac but it was an itchy, oozy, open wound. It looked pretty gross. I kept it hidden.
And then there was the time our family went house-boating in Tennessee. The boat had this great slide from the roof of the boat into the lake. Without properly preparing the slide, I planted myself at the top and whooshed into the water. Unfortunately, the slide was dry and my leg rubbed all the way down making a horrible screeching noise while simultaneously removing a sizable portion of skin off my thigh. It hurt fiercely.
After a few days a scab formed but it took a long time for new skin to grow and during that process the area had an annoying habit of watering and sticking to whatever I was wearing. Two things resulted…first, my clothing would dry to the oozing wound and require me to reopen it when I changed my clothes. Secondly, it was noticeable on the outside, especially when I inadvertently wore white pants. Now something that should be my secret was obvious to everyone.
This reminds me of my heart and what comes out of my mouth. I try really hard to be kind and pleasant. I want my words to bring life. It want everyone to feel as if they encountered Jesus when they encounter me.
That is my goal. I am not there yet. I get annoyed and frustrated. I am embarrassed to say that many times this reaction is based on wrong information – either I have been given the wrong information or I make assumptions based on partial information. Try as I might, I do not hide those feelings well. They somehow ooze to the surface in a really disarming and unkind way.
So, what are my choices? How could I improve? I’ve been pondering this a bit. I have come up with several options. First, I could avoid being annoyed in the first place. Sometimes that works. And I really believe that if I wasn’t human I could completely avoid ever having ill feelings about any person or situation. But I’m human so that doesn’t work for me.
Secondly, I could develop strategies for keeping my feelings hidden. Smile more. Talk to myself about it and maybe chant a mantra like “This does not bother me. This is not a big deal.” I fear, based on my experience, that the wound would ooze and become an ugly mess and stick to my clothes and then I would have to rip it off and then…it’s an ugly cycle.
Thirdly, and what I want to do, I could admit before the Lord that I am frustrated. I could ask him to change my heart, to help me see a perspective other than my own. I could ask more questions for clarity, to explore how decisions are made.
But I don’t, I stew. And without even needing to plan it, words tumble out of my mouth that are not kind. The attitude I thought so well hidden is suddenly out in the open. And it stinks. I am embarrassed. And I know I have been unkind.
In Matthew 15, Jesus encounters the Pharisees. They are insulted that the disciples don’t practice the age old tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat. Jesus speaks rather directly to them and asks why they violate a direct command of God by refusing to honor their parents. He goes on to say that it isn’t what goes into your mouth that defiles you, it is what comes out of your mouth. The disciples are appalled that Jesus would speak so harshly to the religious leaders and even point out to Jesus that he offended the Pharisees. He finishes the teaching by saying, “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart–that is what defiles you.”
It isn’t important for me to try harder to be careful about what I say. It is important that I allow the Holy Spirit to show me what is in my heart and then to allow him to change the thoughts or attitudes that influence the words that come from my heart. If I am continually aware of any plaque that might be building up inside and allow the Holy Spirit to keep it cleaned out, I don’t need to be concerned with the words that will pour out. They will naturally be coming from a heart that is clean.
But occasionally salty words come from our hearts. And then it’s important to listen to the Holy Spirit and make things right. Admit that your words weren’t kind. Ask forgiveness. Genuinely repent. I John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us…”
And once we have done the hard work of confession and forgiveness, we need to let it go.
In Philippians 3, Paul talks about putting confidence in our achievements and the necessity of putting those things behind us so we can hang our hats on what Christ has done for us on the cross. Verses 12-14 read like this:
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, thorough Christ Jesus, is calling us.
When my words betray the thoughts of my heart, it’s hard to let it go. I kick myself over and over for being insensitive, unkind, misinformed, ungrateful….and it goes on and on. At some point, I have to forget the past. The words were said, I genuinely apologized and acknowledged my error. Now I need to let it go.
And I need to look forward. I have the opportunity to learn from these experiences. It can help to create a kinder, more sensitive me. It gives me an opportunity to see how often my concern is about me. What will people think of me? And instead to think of the other person. What did this do to them? To their confidence?
So, I press on. Life has a way of giving us opportunities to learn and grow if we take them. I once read that you can’t learn to be more loving in a vacuum. “Living in a vacuum” is an idiom for being in total isolation without connection to others. If I want to learn to be more kind and to live from a heart of love, I have to interact with others. And along the way, I’m going to make mistakes. Learning has with it the inherent quality of not getting it right. Failure brings the change we seek.
Maybe you have said hasty words this week. Where are you in the process of healing? Are you having a hard time looking at the heart your words came from because it’s too painful? One thing I know for certain, if you are willing to make the journey with the Holy Spirit, he is the kindest, gentlest person I know and he will show you what you need to know in the best kind of way. Not only that, but he will help you know how to make the changes you need.
Have you done the hard work of repentance and apology and you are still in the “kick yourself” phase? It is time to let it go. Forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead.
I am so grateful for a loving Father in heaven who whispers, “I am so proud of you” when I am able to admit that I didn’t get it right. And then he strengthens me to do what I need to do. And I’m grateful for loving people in my life who walk this journey with me and give me a do-over.
Until next time…
May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.