It would be kind to say I don’t have the best relationship with my parents. It would be honest to say I don’t really have a relationship with them at all. What I have is sort of a truce. Not really with them, but with myself. When I finally figured out they didn’t really want a loving relationship, I turned to God for help. I asked Him to help me honor my commitment as their daughter while protecting myself from mental harm. And so, what God and I have worked out is my parents are people that I happen to know and whom I occasionally have an obligation to check in on. And I do that with a positive attitude because I know I am right with God. People to whom I’ve shared that think it’s sad. Some think it’s a bit harsh. Maybe I haven’t tried enough. Maybe I need to fix something else. I struggle each year to find mother’s day and father’s day cards. But words matter. I will no longer lie that they love me dearly. Because they can’t speak it or show it. And so, God helped me to develop the right words to define the relationship – a definition not borne out of anger or hurt but out of a desire to make peace.
Words matter. If there’s one simple statement that defines James 3 it’s just that. We learned this week that once spoken, they can’t be taken back. They are mirrors into our hearts and minds. They define from where our daily wisdom is derived. They can make peace or war. Words are powerful and they matter.
Wow. And yet on average we speak about 15,000 words a day. Just think of all the forest fires we cause. I’d like to think we are doing a lot of peacemaking instead, but do you think that would be true? James wrote his letter to Christian Jews around 45 AD and almost 2,000 years later his description of our words still rings painfully true.
When we lose control over our mouths and words, we’ve lost control over our hearts and minds. We pull from the fountain of man’s wisdom. We seek earthly gain and earthly results. And then seem surprised when there is conflict. “What? What did I do/say? Why are you so sensitive? What’s her/his problem?” My mom once said to me in the midst of a screaming match, “I’M NOT SCREAMING AT YOU! JUST BECAUSE YOU WENT TO COLLEGE DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN TELL ME THAT I AM UPSET!” You want to unpack all that?
Our words (and the way in which we deliver them) can define how we see ourselves in various roles. It’s why we’ve been told to stop using certain words like “housewife” (domestic worker), “illegal immigrant” (undocumented worker) or “unemployed” (economically inactive). The connotations behind certain words have become politically incorrect and therefore must be stricken from our mouths. If we only took as much interest and care in what we basically do with our words every day we’d all be a lot better off.
On one hand we can be so quick to correct someone for their “incorrectness” yet forget that the correction is frequently just what James warns against. Showing bitterness, lack of humility, and lack of mercy brings about our desires to make sure we shove that correctness down someone’s throat. When I hear a younger person deriding an older person for using words such as “oriental” or “stewardess” it shows first, a lack of respect for elders and second, a lack of understanding of historical perspective and therefore a lack of mercy and forgiveness.
I don’t see a lot that going around these days. However, I can only be responsible for one person – me. So, when God and I worked out helping me verbalize my relationship with my parents He made sure I did it with a peaceful heart, a merciful and sincere one. I couldn’t keep living in a fake world where I thought each time I interacted with them that they weren’t who they are. I need to accept them as the faulty people we all are. I needed to stop wanting them to love me and accept the love instead from my husband, my children and my extended family but most of all from Christ. But I also needed to respect my role as their only child.
Words matter. So, I say they are people I happen to know. People that I check in on every now and then because God wants me to. I say it matter-of-factly, without anger, without vengeance, without hurt. God also wants me to pray for them so I do. I pray every day to have the walls they have solidly built around them, through negativity and a lack of any faith, to be torn down. And I know those words are powerful and good.