I wrote this story in the summer of 2016 originally and it appeared on this blog in early 2017. It’s funny how it is as relevant, or perhaps more so, today than three and a half years ago. It also is the lead story in my award-winning book, “Jesus in Shorts: Twenty-five Short-Stories of Life-Changing Jesus Moments”.
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:12-13
I wasn’t 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 for over thirty years. In the past, we have always been open to different points of view and kept civility in our conversations. This is due, in large part, to our mutual love for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our conversation began calmly. But before long we were talking over each other, insisting only one person could be right; and we 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 to distract you with insults.”
Still, passion is passion and it doesn’t always provide an exit ramp from the highway of self-righteousness. What’s worse, the unshakable posture, “I’m right,” will push us full-speed past the line of protecting dignity – ours or another’s.
I was pulled from my guilt-filled musings when my dentist, (a fellow I like very much), came to deliver that always pleasant shot in the jaw from a needle the size of a garden 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 process was complicated by my inability to get my tongue out of the way. I tried complying with her request to pull the pesky organ aside. But it simply was not a manageable task. I tried to apologize with words. That, too, was not manageable. I looked up helplessly. The hygienist laughed and said, “I know you’re 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 an hour until completion of the procedure.
When I returned home, I sat down with my Bible, which I felt I didn’t have time to read prior to starting the day’s activities. 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).
I squirmed in my chair when I realized God was talking directly to me about the previous day’s conflict. It was not only what I said, but how I said it. I was so bent on being right, I didn’t stop to consider that 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 is very clear that it does not matter how others act, we are responsible for our own behavior. 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 onto 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 sounding like I had just come from the neighborhood bar.
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 incurred when I couldn’t 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. When the tongue is numb it can cause great harm, to me and to others. That’s the poisonous part you talk about in James, right? Okay, I get it, Lord.”
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 more mindful of how we communicate in the future. We discussed and recommitted ourselves to our belief that we are never called, as believers, to be silent on important issues. Regardless of belief systems, we still have an obligation to govern our democracy – a blessing that many don’t have around our world. That’s made more difficult if we refuse to learn from others and resist engaging in respectful dialogue because our interest lies in protecting our own rigid stances.
We prayed over the phone and came away reaffirmed that relationships are more important than what one person perceives as right or wrong. After a lengthy conversation, we planned 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 me speak my truth in love, lend my voice to important issues and respect/learn from other voices. But most of all, it provides a solid model for loving by leading my conversations without a numb tongue.
This was written for all (including this author) who cherish their friends enough to say and accept, “I’m sorry.”
Copyright February 2017, Laura L. Padgett, Author
Connect with me, Laura Padgett, on Twitter @lauraleepadgett or my Facebook Author Page
Check out the books I have published
“Dolores, Like the River,” available at Westbow Press, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and all major online retailers. If you live in the U.S. and would like an autographed copy sent directly to you, click on the Buy Books tab on my home page
The award-winning “Jesus in Shorts: Twenty-five Shorts Stories of Life-Changing Jesus Moments,” available now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you live in the U.S. and would like an autographed copy sent directly to you, click on the Buy Books tab on my home page