The car door opened, and our 9-year-old burst into uncontrollable sobs. Throwing his left over lunch and book bags into the van floor, he attempted to explain the reason for this great sadness through unintelligible sounds. By the time my wife made the 1 mile trip to the driveway, he had calmed down enough to begin making some sense. The catalyst for this emotional explosion? A mean girl in his class (name withheld) 🙂 had eagerly , and somewhat gleefully, reported to him that his girlfriend was planning to break up with him.
How could this be?! I thought. They just got married on the playground last week! They even exchanged rings! Relationships just don’t last very long these days.
It was my wife who held him in her lap in the living room recliner, to comfort him and to attempt to explain the dynamics of elementary-school girls and what is apparently on his horizon. By the time I got home, his world was back together. Mine was coming apart. My parent fangs were coming out as I listened to the story. Even when it’s ridiculous, it’s no fun when you hear that another person brought injury to your child’s heart. Yet, this is an opportunity for an important life lesson. And it’s a lesson that many adults have yet to learn also.
Do you have any 1-liner lessons that got drilled into your core? One that came roaring back from a file in the back of my mind was a truth taught to me long ago: “Straight lines are good. Triangles are bad.” The truth was uttered in reference to the way we relate to one another with our words…especially when the topic is potentially harmful to someone else. How many times has your heart been assaulted because you heard a negative thing that someone else said about you? I would add to the danger of triangles: squares, pentagons, octogons, decagons…and the larger the shape, the uglier the situation.
The Apostle James points this out in chapter 3 of his epistle. The tongue has great power. Like a tiny rudder that can steer a huge ship, the tongue can chart a whole new future direction. It’s a tough life lesson to learn but a practice that will bless your life and others: if you have something difficult to say, go directly to the person involved. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200 on the way. Make a straight line. As we live in community, it is a part of the way we value and nurture those around us. Kingdom people protect the character of others.
But there is a way that the geometry can be good! A few weeks ago, I read a phrase (I wish I could remember who to give this credit to) that struck me as wonderful. The phrase was “holy gossip.” WHAT IF our practice became bragging to one another of the awesome things that so-and-so did? WHAT IF our congregations became small groups that whispered about the crazy-gracious way that “this person” helped out “that family?” WHAT IF that tantilizing feeling that so often accompanies the juiciness of an expose’ drove us to proclaim to people how we saw someone being Christ in our communities?
We need more Holy Gossip in our world.
During my 14 years working in Student Ministry, we got a LOT of practice discovering how words hold the power of life or death. One of our annual practices among our Leadership Team was Affirmation Lists. It worked like this: each person in the circle would write his/her name at the top of a paper and pass it to the right. The next person would look at the name, then write at least 1 thing that they admired, loved, respected or were grateful for about that person. Then, they passed it to the right again. Everyone had to write something new as he/she received the next name. You were allowed to put a “check” next to a statement someone else wrote if you agreed with it, but your statement had to be new. This continued until everyone received his/her personal name back. You may think this sounds juvenile; and perhaps it is. But I can tell you this: many of those kids who are adults today, still have their Affirmation Lists stuck in their Bibles. Most of them have gone on to become amazing Kingdom people all over the globe whose walk with Christ is evident to all around them.
I would suspect that most adults my age and older might find this silly…the thought of sitting around a circle and passing papers around. But I would also suspect that most would secretly like to receive a sheet of paper, with their name at the top, filled with encouraging words about their personhood and people’s positive perspectives on their character.
Maybe we don’t need paper. Maybe we could just open our mouths and practice it. Maybe we could experiment with 1 person per day speaking a meaningful encouragement. How much faster would God’s Kingdom expand if we help people glimpse the value that He has for them?
Now that’s some mathematics I could get used to.