I was not sure what I found more oppressive, my fear of the dentist as I sat in the chair for my appointment, or my sense of guilt at the way a disagreement with a friend ended the previous evening. That conversation weighed heavily on my mind. We were talking politics. This friend and I have been on opposite sides of most issues, in most elections, for over thirty years. Still, we have always been open to different points of view and kept civility in our conversations, due in large part to our mutual love for the Lord Jesus Christ. This time we were anything but open and civil.
Our conversation began calmly enough. But before long we began talking over each other, insisting that only one person could be right and ended just this side of exchanging personal potshots. Anyone who has taken a debate class knows an argument is lost when we resort to injuring others because it screams, “My position is weak as water, and the only way I can win is by distracting you with insults.”
Still, passion is passion and it does not always provide an exit ramp when on the highway of self-righteousness. What is worse, the unshakable posture, “I’m right,” will push us full-speed past the line of protecting dignity – ours or another’s. I am sorry to say this is becoming increasingly true in Christian circles too, in my experience.
I was pulled off the guilt meter when my dentist, (a fellow I like very much by the way) came in to deliver that always pleasant shot in the jaw from a needle the size of a fire hose. During the injection I did my usual routine – remembered breathing techniques learned in childbirth classes, tried not to lose control of any bodily functions and prayed really, really hard.
After half my face and tongue felt dead, the hygienist began prep work. This was complicated by my inability to get my tongue out of the way.
I tried complying with her request to pull that pesky organ back. But it simply was not a manageable task. I tried to apologize with words. Again, it was not manageable. I looked up helplessly. The hygienist laughed and said, “I know you are trying, Hon. But it’s hard to talk to a numb tongue.”
I attempted a nod and smile. Instead I sort of just blinked and drooled at her. She patted my hand and together with the dentist we shared the space for two hours until the procedure was completed.
When I returned home, I sat down with my Bible, which I felt I did not have time to read earlier. As directed by my favorite devotional booklet, I turned to the Scripture passage of the day. “But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison,” (James 3:8 ESV).
I realized God was talking directly to me about the previous day’s conflict. It was not what I said but how I said it. I was so bent on being right, I did not realize my words were hurtful. My tongue was untamed because it had become unruly and fueled by ego.
I mused about this, pouted a little and did the familiar three-year-old mental shifting from one foot to the other while pleading, “She started it, God. And besides look how everyone is acting right now. We are just so uptight and steeped in unkindness. What do you expect when we live in this world you gave us?”
I knew in my heart this was not going to fly with the Almighty any more than Adam pointing a finger and saying, “Yeah, well it’s all her fault,” got him off the hook for the Eden eviction. God was very clear that it does not matter how others act, we are responsible for our own actions. His kids are called to act differently, period. If there was a problem with my friend, He would deal with that. It was not my business.
After some time on the pity pot, I climbed into my Father’s lap and asked Him to forgive me. I told him I would call the other party and ask her forgiveness too, when I could manage to get words out without slurring them.
As the injection meds wore off, I was in a considerable amount of pain. The discomfort was not from the dental work sites, but from a bite on my tongue I incurred when I could not feel it. Again the Holy One nudged me.
I sat back in my chair with an ice pack on my mouth and shared a giggle (sort of) with God. “Oh, I see now. When the tongue is numb it causes great pain, to me and to others. That is the poisonous part you talk about in James, right? Okay, I get it, Lord,” I confessed.
The next day I was able to call my friend and offer an apology for my insensitivity. She accepted my amends and offered one of her own. We agreed to be aware of not only what we say but how we say it. We discussed and recommitted ourselves to our belief that we are never called, as believers, to be silent on important issues. We also fall far short of our obligation to govern our democracy if we refuse to learn from others and engage in respectful dialogue because we are more interested in protecting our own rigid stances.
We prayed over the phone and came away reaffirmed that relationships are more important than who is right or wrong. After a great conversation, we agreed to meet for lunch the next week.
I hung up and returned to the same passage in James 3:8, asking God to help me remember this lesson. He assured me that Scripture, when taken to heart, proves to be the best practice for walking this world. God’s Word helps us speak our truth in love, lend our voice to important issues and respect/learn from other voices. But most of all, it provides a solid model for loving by leading our conversations without numb tongues.
Copyright February 2017
Laura L. Padgett
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