Monday, May 04, 2009

"Let your speech always be with grace . . ."

It's a habit I've developed since I was in high school when my own father used to rip my papers apart. (I used to say he "shredded" them.)

When I was in high school, I once calculated I spent an average of 5 hours per finished page on all of the papers I wrote. When I was finished with a paper [usually the night before it was due], I'd proudly show it to my mom who would invariably say, "This is wonderful, John! You need to show it to your father!" And then, foolish man that I was, I'd bring it over to my dad: "Hey, Dad! Take a look at this paper!"

I'd kiss him on the cheek and head off to bed.

Before I'd get 15 steps, he'd call: "John! Come back here!"

"Yes, Dad?"

"What is this first sentence?!?" he'd demand. . . . And he would proceed to show me how deficient my entire paper was--the grammar, the specific word choices, the logical progression, the flow. . . .

I remember once, I think it was sometime while I was still in college, though it could have been after, I sent him a personal letter. (Remember back when people would actually send physical letters through the mail?!?) A couple of days later, I got a phone call. He wanted to talk about my letter.

"Okay . . ." History, perhaps, should have taught me not to have accepted his offer. But I always wanted to learn.

He launched into a minute critique of my letter.

Ignoring the fact that he was taking me to task on a personal letter (I had learned "simply" to bear these kinds of emotional beatings), after about 10 minutes of his withering critique, I didn't think I could take anymore.

"Dad," I interrupted. "Could you hold on a second? I'm just wondering. If this had been a paper you were grading for a class: What kind of grade would you give it? A D? An F? . . ."

"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Probably an A-. Maybe a B+."

"Oh," I said. "Okay. I was just wondering. I was just getting really discouraged. . . ."

"Oh, no!" he said. "It's a fine letter. But I just thought I would help you improve for the future."

My problem: I've taken on much of the same kind of critical attitude. And, I know, I have caused similar angst and discomfort to my own kids and to many employees who have worked with and for me over the years.

I thought you should know this background before I tell you the following story.

One of the young pastors in our church asked to speak with me this last Friday morning following our men's prayer meeting.

I had no idea what, specifically, he had in mind, but I willingly agreed.

At this moment, I can't remember how he began our meeting, but it quickly became clear that it was not going to be an easy discussion . . . for either of us.

The pastor who took me aside did so because of what I had said--and how I had said it--to our guest speaker.

As is my habit, I had avoided the sin of gossip (speaking behind the man's back), but I did so by speaking to him directly, immediately after the first worship service, in a manner a bit too reminiscent of my father's methodology . . . and my emulation thereof.

The assistant pastor who took me aside had overheard enough of what I said and saw enough of how I said it--and, I'm sure, having experienced similar--shall I call them tirades?--from me before, he didn't have to guess too much about what had happened.

Bt having talked with the guest speaker following my confrontation, this assistant minister determined to speak with me.

And, in the midst of an astonishingly gentle reprimand (à la 1 Timothy 5:1--"Do not sharply rebuke an older man"), this young man, not quite half my age, urged me earnestly to seek to obey Colossians 4:6 ("Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person") by seeking to filter whatever messages I might want to share through the purifying and sweetening filter of Galatians 5:22-23--to see if what I want to say evinces the aroma of Christ: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control."

He didn't mention this passage, but my mind just went to James 3:17 as well:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
"Ask yourself, before you speak, 'does this--what I am about to say--show these characteristics? Will it help my hearer respond with such characteristics?"

I have prayed--and I want, here, to dedicate myself publicly--to seek to do those very things.

May my speech (whether spoken or written) fulfill this noble call.
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