I’ve had a really powerful reminder this week of the importance of our words. I wanted to share it with you.
I’m taking some driving lessons this month, in preparation for (hopefully?) getting my license. I had different teachers assigned for each day, and the first one was pretty terrible. One particularly aggravating thing was that she kept saying angrily, “Why did you do that?” I thought at first this was a real question, so I tried to explain (“I moved over to make room for the construction worker”), but she wasn’t really asking. This was apparently her way of saying “You did something wrong.” When I realized this, I started asking, “Can you tell me what to do instead?” She would exasperatedly sigh and say something kind of vague (“Just go straight,” “Don’t move like that”). I felt helpless and stupid–and then angry because I’m neither helpless nor stupid!
My second teacher, James Perez, was fantastic–he was clear and concrete. He told me in advance what to do (“when the light turns green, go halfway into the intersection to that point, and then . . .”). And when I made a mistake, he would describe to me what I had done wrong and why it happened. Then he’d say, “Okay, try it again.” If he was unable to explain it quickly as we drove, he had me pull over so he could explain it clearly. When I did something right, he’d name it.
So the lesson I’ve taken away that I want to share with you is this: If something is important, and if it matters to us, we will be careful and clear with our words. The many authors of the Bible share this value–the ethics of speech are the most-discussed ethical topic in the Biblical library. If something’s wrong, we should think about how to carefully and clearly say that it’s wrong, and if something’s going well, we can name it specifically. I know that my first teacher was trying to convey a correction by saying, “Why did you do that,” but she hadn’t quite thought about how that sounded. She had important information to share about driving, but hadn’t put in the work to convey it well. James, on the other hand, really values his subject, and has therefore perfected his teaching language.
So I hope this week you will join me in thinking not just about what we mean to say but what we’re actually saying! And we can pray about it, too: “Lord, help me choose the right words.” “Lord, let my language be a sign of your love.” “Lord, help!”