A friend of mine picked up half a sausage roll, ready to tuck into morning tea. These weren’t just home brand sausage rolls but the gourmet kind with buttery pastry and real meat. As she took her first bite, another lady walked past and said three devastating words: “You’ll get fat.”
Does this make you cringe? It should. It made me cringe. It may have only been three words, but these were heavy words to say. They made all sorts of bad assumptions about my friend, about her eating habits, about her body type, about weight and values etc. They may have only been three words, but they hurt.
We have been reading through James at church over the past month, and I have been particularly convicted about my words. Especially when it comes to assuming the worst of others and speaking without knowing the full story.
I speak, I don’t often stop to think. I just say. I shoot people down, or I complain and whine when people change their plans and I’m left hanging, or when people are unreliable and don’t come through, or when people don’t do what I want them to do. I make harsh calls and judge peoples actions and choices. And often I don’t know why they’ve done the things they’ve done – and I don’t stop to find out.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. James 3:9-10
In the past, I’ve made unfair offhand comments about people ditching outings only to find out that their grandmother has died. I’ve been critical about people being late, only to find out that they were trying to resolve an argument with their spouse before they’ve come out. I’ve ranted about people missing something important that they’ve committed to, only to find out later that their decision was the most loving one they could make for their parents that night. I’ve complained about how people have let me down when they’ve accidentally double booked, even though I have done this a thousand times myself.
I’ve been particularly challenged by these words in James in a few ways.
Firstly, I’ve just become aware of how badly I use my words. I’m guilty guilty guilty of cursing the very people God created in his likeness. It doesn’t matter how many good things I do, none of them can take away the words I have said. When I realise just how guilty I am of this, it makes me appreciate so much more that Jesus died on the cross to take away my sin.
Secondly, I need to do something about the way I speak about others. As someone forgiven by Jesus, I can’t keep sinning in this way – especially now that I’m aware how much I do it.
I’m trying to pray more about how I use my words. I need God’s help because this is actually a heart issue. I need to see people through God’s eyes, as created beings loved by him. I need to think about others with God’s mind, because God considered these people so precious to him that he died for them. I need to love people with God’s heart, because he loved them (and me) when we were hurtful to him, when we were his enemies.
But I can’t just wait for my heart to be all A-OK. I need to work on how I speak as well.
I’m trying to stop and think before I criticise people. I don’t want to just assume the worst of people and brand them unfaithful, unreliable, flakey etc. I want to trust that if people act in a certain way, and are late to things or can’t make things or have to let me down, then they have good reasons to do so and they are not just hurting me for the fun of it. I need to give people more credit than I am. I need to give them the benefit of the doubt. And you know what, even if they are flakey and unreliable and even if they do something that hurts me for no good reason, that’s still not an excuse to curse them and say bad things about or to them.
We can either use our words to hurt or to help. Assuming the worst only ever hurts others.