A time to weep and a time to laugh…
How is it that we can toss off some things like water under the bridge and others make us want to throw ourselves off the bridge? Do we know for certain which mistakes should be laughed at and which should cause us to weep sorrowfully? Are we confident we can discern trivial slips from serious sins? In fact, are we actually capable or qualified to evaluate the scale and consequences of any mistake we make, intentional or accidental? Here’s the reality of it: the gravity of our mistakes is measured in the eyes of their beholders. It’s not ours to say which are laughable and which are lamentable. Even when our intentions seem innocuous—a good-natured rib about someone’s taste, for example—he/she may view it as a searing personal attack, the latest in a lifelong series of battering insults. On the other hand, we may underestimate another’s self-assurance, and condemn ourselves for a slight that, from their perspective, holds no importance. Before we rashly decide on our own which bridge to take—the lamenting bridge or the laughing bridge—we should sensitize ourselves to the response and signals of others. They’ll tell us what time it is.
The Art of Listening
“My dear brothers, take note of this,” James 1.19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” adding in verse 26, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” The art of listening is the believer’s finest skill. It places others’ feelings and opinions first, thereby fulfilling Christ’s law to love our neighbors as ourselves. It validates their importance not only to us, but also to the world at large. When we gloss over how others react to things we do and say by rushing to explain ourselves, we minimize their sense of personal value. This is always lamentable, regardless of how laughable our original misstep was.
James insists, “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” (James 3.5) Miscalculating the impact of what we say from our perspective instead of those we speak to is one of the surest ways to turn laughing moments into weeping times, some of which can last for years. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon on both sides. We’ve all seen random sparks escalate into raging fires that leave wide gulfs of scorched earth between people. Knowing this potential exists keeps us alert to discipline our tongues from shooting off sparks.
As children, we countered nasty insults with a smug little proverb: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” What a load that is! The wounding pain of words hangs on long after physical injuries mend. Here’s why: our words are eternal. They’re propelled and borne by our breath—the very same breath God used to inspire our beings and set us apart from all other creation. Once they’re released, they assume lives of their own. They can’t be taken back. They can’t be controlled. Where they travel and whom they reach can’t be managed. We speak living words that can’t die because they’re driven by God’s power.
We can never speak for God, but we must always be aware we speak like Him. Knowing this, we strive to see everyone we meet as He does—unique reflections of His love, power, and majesty. In other words, we address one another with profound awe and respect, considering another's' pleasure and wellbeing above our own. And when we discipline ourselves to communicate His principles and nature—in word and deed—we create times to laugh. Indulging selfishness and pride increases the frequency of times we weep.
The wisdom with which we control what we say determines if our words are lamentable or laughable.
(Tomorrow: Regretting and Rejoicing)