Take Time to Be Kind!
One of the phrases I still hear my mom saying is, “If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” As a single mother with five mouthy boys, she had plenty of opportunities to utter that phrase and I am thankful she did. She’s been with Jesus since 2006 and yet I can still hear her!
I remember one time in particular, my brother and I got into a bit of a kerfuffle and a few choice words exited my mouth that my mom overheard. This emitting led to a special time of solitude for me, where I was placed in a chair by our front door and told to sit in place until I had something nice to say. Well, that time dragged on for what seemed an eternity as truly I couldn’t think of anything nice to say. After about an hour with my brother walking by periodically and causing me to stay in this dark wordy place, my mother approached and said, “Well, do you have anything nice to say?” As my brain attempted to say something positive, I simply could not. And there I sat, for a couple more hours, yes, a few more hours. Again, she asked, and I said, “What do you want me to say?” She said, how about starting with “I’m sorry?” Sometimes I wish she was still around because I know I need to hear that wisdom again. Perhaps we all do.
One doesn’t need to look far to see and hear that we are living in times of mean, hurtful and truly unkind words flowing from the mouths from many, whether churched or not. Maybe it’s the lock downs, quarantines, the masks, the election, social media, or the influence of technology that have all contributed to the not-so-nice things we let slip from our tongues. But my hunch is, saying nice things has been a challenge for many and for a long time. Scripture is ripe with warnings about our speech. If you’re bold enough, do a search on Bible verses about how we are to speak. You may find this exercise both encouraging and convicting.
One doesn’t need to look far to see and hear that we are living in times of mean, hurtful and truly unkind words flowing from the mouths from many, whether churched or not.
The Apostle Paul would echo my mom in Ephesians 4:29 with, “Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up.” You’d think my mom and Paul got together to train me up. Paul chooses firm words in this passage, providing little wiggle room with his opening phrases, “don’t let any” and “unwholesome talk.” As Pastor Jamie regularly says, I looked up that phrase, “don’t let any” in the original language and you know what it says? None, zero, nada, not even a mention. And “unwholesome” in the Greek is even more colorful in its meaning: rotten, putrid, of poor quality, bad, unfit for use, worthless.
Why did Paul start with “don’t let any?” How is this possible? Really, not any, and unwholesome, too? It’s a wonder we can even utter a word. You see our words are a window to our soul and have power we may not realize. The author of Proverbs 18:21 says this more succinctly, “The tongue (the words we speak) has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The brother of Jesus, James, would say that our tongue, although a small part of our body, can make great boasts and can work like a small spark in creating a great forest fire. If you don’t have something nice to say…then you’d better be a good fireman!
You see our words are a window to our soul and have power we may not realize.
This passage in Ephesians about unwholesome talk is part of a larger section of Scripture about what unity and maturity in the body of Christ looks like. It’s a wonderful description of what the “perfect” church would look like, and perhaps what makes the church grow. Paul begins Chapter 4 with “therefore,” and that therefore refers to his spelling out in glorious detail in chapters 1-3 all that God did for us, freely, by His grace. When we truly grasp that, Paul suggests in chapter 4, we will naturally want to serve and obey Him out of gratitude as His image bearers. Paul provides quite an instruction on what obedience and serving out of gratitude look like, one we might review to see how we’re doing as image bearers, and he includes a particular challenge about the things we say.
God placed another mother in my life, through marriage, who has and is being used along with the Apostle Paul and my own mom to shape my life. My mother-in-law is 92 and in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, a devastating disease that robs her mind of its memory. It has been a long journey of slowing saying goodbye to her. I know she knows me, but for some reason, she can’t seem to put me fully back into her memory. To be honest, I am partly grateful she has forgotten some things. Early in my marriage, I was less kind with my words, and God has graciously allowed her to forget that and for me to remember. Over time and through God’s grace, I found myself loving my mother-in law, Nancy, as I could see that she was experiencing something inside that was beginning to cloud her mind. On most visits these days, we find ourselves praying that God would allow the window of her mind to reopen for just a moment so we can connect with our mom again. Sadly, most visits are filled random words and stories that, at best, make a brief connection to the past. Most times, we simply find ourselves agreeing with whatever she says.
A recent visit was different. The day was typical—words, ramblings and familiar phrases had no semblance of order or design—until a clear phrase sprung forth from her tongue. She looked directly at my wife and me and said, “Take time to be kind.”
The day was typical—words, ramblings and familiar phrases had no semblance of order or design—until a clear phrase sprung forth from her tongue.
What did we just hear? Was this an uttering meant for me, a message to our family, a message for our country, our church? Was God answering a prayer allowing us to have one more precious lucid moment in the mind of my mother-in-law? Her timing was impeccable.
This visit fell during the week just prior to the presidential transition when unwholesome talk was peaking in our country and could be found on many lips and screens from nearly every corner of the globe. There was almost no escaping the non-civil discourse and downright hatred and intolerance spewing forth from everywhere. And yet, here was my mother-in-law—completely cut off from her own mind, from all current events and the vitriol of 2020—providing a prophetic message from my past: “Take time to be kind.” In other words, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t let any wholesome talk come out of your mouth. Instead, build others up.
My encouragement to you today, as image bearers of Christ—take heed to the phrases of two mothers to a mouthy boy and imagine the impact in a church and world that would live out these words! I am thankful for my two moms and their lessons to a mouthy boy.