Psalm 66, 67 (Morning)
Psalm 19, 46 (Evening)
You know, in this modern era of medical science, there are a lot of parts we can fix or replace. When we begin to lose some spring in our step, a little titanium in the form of a knee or hip replacement can put us right. We can stent or bypass the clogged vessels of our heart. We can correct our failing eyesight with glasses, and we can even find new hearing with hearing aids or cochlear implants. But medical science has still never come up with anything to fix our wayward tongues.
Our reading in James today is one of those “we’ve all done it” things. That moment when we’re hungry, or angry, or lonely, or tired, and someone says or does something that catches us just a little off guard and POW! Before we know it, out comes the cutting remark, the put-down, the mean-spirited aside. (Yeah, I see you cringing; I’m cringing too. Like I said, we’ve ALL done it.)
If that wasn’t enough, the tongue also somehow seems to have the mysterious ability to recruit the fingers to spread its vitriol via our keyboards and text message pads to social media and text messages to create the cutting, snarky response. It’s like there’s a direct neural pathway between the tongue and the fingers that totally bypasses the brain and works straight off the spinal cord like a reflex. What’s up with that?
The sad fact of the matter is we can apologize, we can take down the post, we can do all kinds of things when we see our regret–but if we hurt someone with our words, we can never take back the way they felt at the time. What’s done is done. Boom. No going back. We can only go forward (or stay mired in that same awful spot that our outburst put us.)
Harsh or misguided words might be the most blatant reminder of our imperfect humanity–but it’s also the place where we can always find room to do better, and see progress. We human beings are, at least, for the most part, a trainable lot. The fact that most of us have been relatively successfully potty trained, even if our parents used unsophisticated (or even bad) methods, is a good sign of that! We learn all kinds of things, somehow. Maybe not as fast as the next person, or not without a lot of fits and starts, but we learn…and we can always find room in our prayer life to train both our self-awareness and our God-awareness, in the hope that somehow finds its way to our tongues.
An active prayer life reminds us that we spit strange things out of our mouths when we’re weary, or afraid, or uncertain, or feel that need for attention going on, and none of these are new topics with God. An active prayer life also reminds us that others are likewise weary, afraid, uncertain, or have something going on in their life that has upped their need for attention.
Oh, our tongues never quite give up some habits–I think for the most part we’ll always be stuck with ourselves and our occasionally wayward tongues–but it does seem that the more we see things fully, the more we begin to make room for the other person’s situation, and the more we begin to trust that God is capable of holding all things in the balance, we do learn that that need to deliver harsh or cutting words lessens. We somehow learn little by little it’s better to deliver kind words or no words, and we learn there are ways to speak hard truths without cutting more flesh than is absolutely necessary.
When is a time in your life that you wanted to drag the words back into your mouth within nanoseconds of their utterance? When is a time you learned to see the picture more fully and could approach that person with words of reconciliation?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.