Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Rudder of a Ship: Which direction are you going?

This morning, my husband and I woke up before dawn broke (too early!) and came downstairs to make a pot of coffee and sit at our little breakfast table to read our devotion together. I mentioned in a previous post that we are reading, Early Christian Letters for Everyone by N.T Wright as part of a new routine. And, let me tell you, it is amazing to see how just a little bit of time with God in the morning can change the entire direction of your day.

Which brings me to my point this morning: in James 3:1-12*, we see that the tongue is a very small part of the body, similar to a rudder on a ship, and yet it steers and guides a person, controls where they are headed. One slip of the tongue, and you can easily go off into an entirely different direction.

James warns that being a teacher is a risky profession. How easy to send your pupils off in a certain direction, perhaps determining the course of their life. It is one thing if that direction is a good one, but what if something you say sends them in the wrong direction?

My children (Nora and any other future children; I feel the need to clarify this) are my most obvious pupils. I am responsible for teaching and guiding them. So what is it that I am instilling in their lives?

The other night, I went out to Target for a quick errand and left Nora at home with Eric. While I was in the store, I heard soft whistling coming from the grocery aisles. In the refrigerator section, I saw the source. It was a young boy, probably about 10-12 years old. He was teaching his little brother (maybe about 5 years old?) how to whistle. I smiled at them and proceeded to pick out my food, taking my time, not realizing that they were waiting for me to move aside so that they, too, could grab the same item. When I realized, I apologized for taking so long but they were very gracious, especially for being so young. I was struck by how sweet they were to me.

Anyway, I continued through the grocery aisles, every once and a while hearing the same whistling. When it was time to check out, I stood behind them in line as the three boys helped their mom load their groceries onto the belt. And then, again, load the bags back into the cart. Meanwhile, their mother complained about them to the cashier.

To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. I listened to her talk, and watched the boys more closely, wondering if I was missing some sort of bad behavior. But all I saw were these boys serving their mother quietly, as she was slandering them publicly -- and right in front of them too!

After saying that they drove her crazy, she said something along the lines that she had five children, but "at least I got two girls out of it all."

Oh, my heart broke! These little boys, hearing so plainly their mother's favoring.

I could keep quite no longer, so I spoke up and said that I had witnessed them practicing their whistling and thought they had been very sweet and well-behaved. Of course, I said this in a much kinder and friendlier way than I truly wanted. These same words, spoken in a different tone, could have been pretty vicious. I couldn't help thinking that maybe the mother needed to hear a few choice strong words, but instead, I tried to gently show the mother that she ought to be careful what she said about her sons. And hoped, at the very least, that these children heard me speaking positive things about them.

As a mom, especially, when you are in the house all day with your little ones, it can feel like you are quite stuck there. It is easy to resent the children that seem to "imprison" you. But every word out of your mouth can bring blessing or curses. What are you showering your children with? These young, moldable, and innocent children who look to you for direction... What direction are you heading them in? One that says they are a nuisance? A burden to you?

I pray every day that God protects Nora from my sin, but that is not an excuse to live in sin. Instead, I must try to show Nora each and every day what a blessing she is to me. How she brings joy and life into every moment.

If all we do is tell our children that they are incapable of doing something right, is it any wonder that they grow up and live in that? How much different would our world be if parents chose to pour blessings over their kids instead of slandering them? Maybe they would grow up to become adults who are confident in who they are and the good that they can do.

Just a quick disclaimer: Perhaps, because I am a mom, I tend to think of teaching Nora first. But the truth is, any time I give advice or mentor someone, I am "teaching" them. I am guiding them in a certain direction through my words. James warns that teachers are judged by God more severely, so the lesson to take away is that we better be careful what it is that we are saying.

* "1) Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters; you know that we will be judged more severely. 2) All of us make many mistakes, after all. If anyone makes no mistakes in what they say, such a person is a fully complete human being, capable of keeping firm control over the whole body as well. 3) We put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, and then we can direct their whole bodies. 4) Consider, too, the case of large ships; it takes strong winds to blow them along, but one small rudder will turn them whichever way the helmsman desires and decides. 5) In the same way, the tongue   is a little member but boasts great things. See how small a fire it takes to set a large forest ablaze! 6) And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is a world of injustice, with its place established right there among our members. It defiles the whole body; it sets the wheel of nature ablaze and is itself set ablaze by hell. 7) Every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, you see, can be tamed, and has been tamed, by humans. 8) But no single human is able to tame the tongue. It is an irrepressible evil, full of deadly poison. 9) By it we bless the Lord and father; and by it we curse humans who are made in God's likeness! 10) Blessing and curses come out of the same mouth! My dear family, it isn't right that it should be like that. 11) Does a spring put out both sweet and bitter water from the same source? 12) Dear friends, can a fig tree bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Not can salt water yield fresh.

James 3.1-12

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