Well, there’s one thing we can’t complain about this fall – we’ve had amazing weather! My 5-year-old and I have taken full advantage of these beautiful afternoons and opted outside. We’ve visited parks and playgrounds, but mostly we’ve been going on long bike rides around the neighborhood.
One of Anna’s favorite bike-ride traditions is to stop and point out things she notices along the way. This past week, one of the things that caught her attention was a large grate built into the edge of a homeowner’s lawn.
“What’s that, Mommy?” she asked.
“Oh, that’s just a grate,” I replied.
“But why is it there?” she asked.
I explained to her that because the area around it was higher, whenever it rained the water would all run down into that one low spot. And when water collects and sits in one spot, bad things can happen – not only can it damage your lawn, but it can breed and grow all sorts of yucky stuff! Putting a grate in the ‘ditch’ allows the water to drain, preventing all the yuck.
Later on in our ride, we passed another yard with a hill. Anna, proud of herself for learning something new, said, “Where’s the ditch?” If there was a hill, she assumed there must be a ditch at the bottom to collect the water!
Ditches can be purposeful and helpful things. However, you don’t ever hear people say, “Let’s go hang out in that ditch!” or “This ditch is magnificent!” With all that muck and junk down there, a ditch isn’t really a place you want to visit or spend any amount of time!
The funny thing is how often I become one. I, like most humans, have this tendency to allow the dripping negativity of others to collect inside my heart and mind. When people in my world (or even not in my world) say things that threaten or offend me, I let those words sink down deep while I sit in the muck trying to stir up my response:
“Well, they just need to hear this…” or
“If they knew that…” or
“They should understand what…”
Because my (always accurate, of course 😉) opinion must be known!
In our Moms Bible Study this fall, we’ve been studying the wisdom found in the book of Proverbs. A couple sessions ago we focused specifically on our words and how we use them. One of the things we talked about really hit home for me:
“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)
We all have opinions and sharing them with others is part of getting to know each other. Many of our opinions are non-threatening – like where we like to go for pizza (Angelo’s!) or our favorite TV show (Survivor!). We are uniquely-formed beings with unique tastes, preferences, and ways of expressing our individuality.
Some of our opinions, though, are more threatening because they involve our personal perception of a situation or our judgment of another person’s character. We may not always share these opinions openly, but as soon as we start entering ‘ditch’ territory – as soon as we feel threatened or offended – they seem to be on a race to our lips.
And, I don’t know about you, but I always find that my “delight” in “airing” whatever I so desperately needed to get out (like a couple weeks ago when I told my husband exactly what he “needed to hear”), is short-lived. I don’t feel any better and, in the end, I often make things worse!
Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.”
Just like the grate in the neighborhood lawn, we have the opportunity every day to choose ditch-prevention. Instead of letting negativity, threats, and offense sink into our souls and muck things up, we can let them run right through and go where they belong. And who knows? Maybe if we don’t let that stuff hang around, it won’t find its way back out in our responses.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve found the most helpful ‘grate’ to be one simple question: WHY? First, I ask myself – “Why is this offending or threatening me?” There’s always a below-the-surface reason that I don’t at first realize. Is it my pride or selfish ambition that’s been wounded? Am I reacting out of fear or perceiving a personal attack when that may not be the case?
And then, as I form my response, I ask “Why am I sharing this?” Is it because I think I’ll feel better after my opinion is made known? Is it because I think I can change their mind and then they’ll be ‘right’ like me? Or will my response show humility and a sense of care for everyone involved?
As followers of Jesus, we are aiming to do life the way He did, and He did it with ultimate humility and love. He knew who He was and knew He needed nothing from this world – and therefore nothing could be taken from Him. As God in human flesh, He knew all wisdom and truth, so He was never threatened by anyone’s opinions.
In his book, “Unoffendable,” author Brant Hansen puts it this way: Christians “should be the most refreshingly unoffendable people on a planet that seems to spin on an axis of offense.” We know Whose we are and, although we need nothing from this world, we do have something to offer it.
Lord, help me to be unoffendable today. Instead of letting the negativity puddle, let it drain right though me. Guard my lips so I can use my words to show others your love. Amen.