The Virtue of Reserving Judgment

Have you ever been incredibly wrong about a person? Is there someone you know who ended up being the opposite of what you first expected? I hope you are thinking about someone that surprised you in a good way, because I am. Actually two examples leap to mind. One person, based on body language and seeming attitude, struck me as completely aloof. Instead this person is surprisingly tenderhearted, choking up at the slightest instigation. And another gentleman Will and I both met a few years back made the worst first impression on me. No he wasn’t rude, or ill-mannered. He wasn’t conceited or hypocritical. He was just so mild-mannered that I mistook him for uninteresting. In fact, I would not have made any effort to know him better. Ahh, but God had other plans. You see, my life is orchestrated, and so four years later, I know this gentleman pretty well, and he is nothing that I first imagined. In fact, his story is the least boring of any person I’ve ever met. My trusty intuition was dead wrong.
We make innumerable snap assessments everyday. We judge people’s motives and intentions. We infer rationales and ulterior motives. Our brains are amazingly efficient machines. We input data and nanoseconds later we can spit out all manner of conclusions. But is that wise? Don’t you think it’s good to recognize our own fallibility, to remember that we can be totally off base?
Two books that I’ve read in the last month address this issue. The real life story of Ron Hall and Denver Moore in Same Kind of Different As Me compellingly illustrates the propensity to misjudge. The love that replaced snap judgments in the lives of Ron and Denver proved astoundingly transformative for both men. And I recommend this thought-provoking book without reservation. In a less direct way, Andy Andrew’s The Noticer is also about misjudging others. This book is full of wisdom, imbedded in vignettes and dialogue. While this format is popular right now, it is not a personal favorite. Stories are helpful in understanding principles. Some of Jesus’ most convicting teachings were told in parable. But for me, stories are not always necessary. And if you use a story to demonstrate a point, I want it to be fantastic. Unfortunately, the stories in The Noticer do not always meet that standard. That said, Andrews has many great thoughts about right perspectives, encouraging words, human relations, and loving each other well.
But isn’t it interesting, and yet predictable that the best and most succinct advice is found in Proverbs? Solomon aptly summarizes the wisdom found in any book. For the two mentioned above the following verses offer a brief synopsis.
  • “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.” Proverbs 10:12
  • “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Proverbs 11: 25
  • “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.” Proverbs 11: 12
  • “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” Proverbs 12: 1
  • “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12: 18
  • “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16: 24
  • “Do not exploit the poor…” Proverbs 22: 22
  • “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:9.
May we reserve judgment this week, may we speak pleasant words that are sweet like honey, and may we cover the wrongs we encounter with love.
And if you’ve read Same Kind of Different As Me or The Noticer I’d love to know your thoughts.

Ten Great Lines

I am determined to make 2009 a summer of reading. Little Will has started reading The Boxcar Children aloud to Nate, Sam and me, and I hope this is just the first of many stories that we enjoy this summer. Since I usually blog when the boys are at school, I am thinking that a shortened blog format might be good for our homelife, at least on occasion. Hence, I am going to do a top ten list, every now and then, in lieu of my normal weekly post.

In the past I have claimed that I am not a lyrics person, but I should clarify. I have very little aptitude for remembering the words to songs. In fact, I am certain those around me find this remarkable ineptitude irritating. But, for the record, I do make an effort when I find the music particularly edifying. I love each of the following songs in their entirety. I find them full of truth and wisdom, and truth and wisdom set to music is worth pondering, worth listening to and reflecting upon over and over again. I’ve picked out my favorite line from each song. Some are heartbreaking, some uplifting, all profound.
  1. The Power of the Cross by Getty Music. “Oh to see my name. Written in the wounds, For through Your suffering I am free.”
  2. Held by Natalie Grant. “If hope is born of suffering. If this is only the beginning. Can we not wait, for one hour? Watching for our Savior?”
  3. How Deep the Father’s Love for Us by Sarah Sadler. “Ashamed I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.”
  4. Something Beautiful by Newsboys. “I want a new beginning. One without an end.”
  5. Revelation Song by Gateway Worship. “I’m filled with wonder, awestruck wonder. At the mention of Your name.”
  6. Husbands and Wives by Brooks and Dunn. “Pride is the chief cause in the decline in the number of husbands and wives.”
  7. Be Thou My Vision By Ginny Owens. “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise. Thou mine inheritance, now and always.”
  8. Finally Home by MercyMe “I’m gonna wrap my arms around my daddy’s neck. And tell him that I’ve missed him…When I finally make it home.”
  9. In Christ Alone by Getty Music. “No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, can every pluck me from His hand.”
  10. Forever On and On by Point of Grace. “I’d just as soon try and count the stars up in the sky…than to measure the love there is between His outstretched hands.”
May we ponder and apply these lyrical truths this week! And I would love to know some of your favorites as well.

The Right Words

Earlier this month I had the honor and privilege of speaking at a fundraising dinner. I think there were between three and four hundred people in attendance. Even though my little talk was only about five minutes long, I was very nervous leading up to the event. I wanted to convey the message well, and I didn’t want there to be regrets over choosing me for the task.

As I closed up my remarks and headed back to my table, I passed the leader of the organization and he spoke only one word to me, “Perfect,” he said. Now, I’m not so delusional to think that the word “perfect” actually applied, but how affirming to hear it! C.S. Lewis said, “Isn’t it funny the way some combinations of words can give you–almost apart from their meaning–a thrill like music?” (The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves) Words have such power, and words of affirmation, no matter your dominant love language, are gifts to be treasured.
Yet so often that treasure is withheld. I have a friend who called her parents with exciting news, longing for a few supportive words, maybe even a congratulations. Instead she faced questions and discouragement. I have another friend who craves the praise and approval of her mother, yet no matter how much others recognize the daughter’s gifts and accomplishments, she endures the nagging silence of her own mother.
Choosing the right words is not always easy. As C.S. Lewis said, “to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” (Till They Have Faces) There is a special satisfaction in hearing those artful, musical, well-chosen words. There is also joy in speaking them on those rare occasions we stumble upon them, but maybe beyond the art and the music people just need to be affirmed. Is there someone in your life who could really use an encouraging word, even if it isn’t eloquent?
And as for the “perfect” comment I received, it was an undeserved shot in the arm, but it also symbolized a spiritual principle much weightier than any five-minute speech. After all, if you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, flawless is how your Heavenly Father sees you. The blood of Jesus covers every wrong thing you’ve ever done, and to quote one of my all-time favorite songs, The Power of the Cross, the blood of Jesus even covers “every bitter thought.” How incredible to think that the Creator of the Universe looks at you and at me, and lovingly declares us, “PERFECT!”

The Message

I’ve heard people say that in every oral communication there are at least three distinct messages. There is the message the speaker intends, the message actually conveyed, and the message the individual hears. I recently saw the truth of this principle when I took my three little boys to Fort McHenry, a lovely national monument about an hour from our home. Fort McHenry is where Francis Scott Key penned the words to the Star-Spangled Banner, and our visit there was quite educational. I had always thought our anthem was written during the Revolutionary War, but now I know better and my little boys know better. It was written in 1814, during the Battle of Baltimore when the British attacked Fort McHenry.

I have to admit that I was rather pleased with myself and with them that afternoon. On our drive home Will, who is six, and Nate, who is four, were spouting out all manner of facts and figures regarding the War of 1812. The recitation put Baby Sammy to sleep, but I had a surge of pride over my budding history buffs, and found their level of interest, and seeming comprehension, remarkable.

But then came bedtime. Nearing tears Nate told me he was afraid to go to sleep because “those bad guys with the cannons might come back.”

“You mean the British?” I asked, trying not to laugh too uproariously.

Nate nodded gravely.

“Sweetheart, there is absolutely no chance of the British attacking us again,” I offered.

But big brother found my assurances wanting, wholly inadequate. “Nate,” he said, tenderly, “don’t you remember? The Americans won. The British can’t attack us again. We killed them all.”

So much for history lessons! I’ve laughed and laughed about it, but could the message received be more different than the message intended? And how often do we fail to discover that the little ones in our lives, or even the adults, have so miscontrued our message that they effectively believe we’ve wiped out the British race?

Isn’t it astounding what poor communicators we are? I mean we do it all day everyday, yet so few of us are much good at it. One of my favorite authors, C.S Lewis, once wrote that “to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” But it is often an elusive joy, isn’t it?

I think that’s the treasure of good friends–an implicit agreement about the art of words, a shared joy over their meaning. When we muse in a self-deprecating way about life, a friend laughs. But there’s always a danger that a person still outside that lexicon barrier will say “awww,” and rob you of all the joy your words intended. And nothing ruins a funny moment like pity. For example, when I joke about proudly wearing a fabulous new sweater only to find at the end of the day that the strip of plastic identifying the size was never removed, I don’t want someone to think the Large, Large, Large, Large, Large I was branded with all day is sad. I want them to join me in finding it hilarious, absolutely side-splitting that I could do such a thing…AGAIN!

And when you tell a friend that you’re stressed or tired, they know just what you mean, whereas between strangers, these are very subjective standards. You need to know tolerances, personalities, even sleep patterns, to rightly associate the real meaning of such labels. It can take a long time, a lot of interactions to come to mutual understanding, a consensus about words.

It shouldn’t be too surprising then that relationships, especially new ones, can sometimes feel like work. But the payoff, the wonder of being understood, is a sweet reward so be willing to work at it, be willing to suffer through all the misunderstandings. Reflect on the fact that you sometimes hear a different message than was intended, and that sometimes the message you send is not what is in your heart. Most of all, just keep trying, because that elusive joy is a wonderous joy.

SPEAK!

Only the Father of lies could come up with that old whopper about sticks and stones breaking bones but words being powerless to hurt us. Isn’t it astounding that people bought into that one? I mean what an easy victory for the enemy! But even though it’s been many years since I tried to apply that ridiculous little jingle to my tongue-induced wounds, I continue to be struck by the truth of the exact opposite message, the message of the Bible, the message that words are incredibly powerful, especially words that are spoken. (See Proverbs 16:24 and James 3:3-12)

I just finished Beth Moore’s Believing God 10-week Bible study. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and it’s available online. http://www.lifeway.com/believinggod/ Grab a few friends for accountability and do it! You won’t be disappointed. The study is foundational and profound at the same time, which is truly a feat. The overarching themes are basic to the Christian faith, but Beth Moore takes it deep with probing questions and personal examples, and of course, the entire study is drawn from the Bible itself.

One of my favorite parts of Believing God was on the power of the spoken word. She said, “I believe, therefore I speak.” Again, it is simple, yet profound. It really got me thinking about how little I talk about what I believe. Sometimes my reluctance stems from the fact that I don’t want to hold myself out as example, “prone to wander” as I am. But that’s another great tool for the enemy. After all, if we waited until we were perfect to share our faith, no one would ever share anything. And as Ravi Zacharias is fond of saying, Christ didn’t die to make bad people good, but to make dead people live! So I’m embracing a new willingness to share my faith and God’s great faithfulness to me. Hence, this here blog!

But the power of words isn’t just a spiritual principle. I mean of course God spoke creation into existence, and as Romans 10:9 states, I’m saved by confessing with my mouth that Jesus is Lord, but the spoken word also gets you married. It is with your voice you plead guilty or innocent in a court of law. With my voice, my spoken word, I became a member of the Virginia bar. At our baby dedications, I promised with my voice to raise the boys in a God-fearing, Christ-centered home. We take oral agreements very seriously. We may commit the most binding contracts to writing, but when someone goes back on their word, we feel a keen sense of disappointment.

Even in day to day life the spoken word has a mysterious strength that the written word lacks. We sign our most insignificant notes and emails with love. Yet how often do you tell that same person that you love them? I know you can picture a thank you note that says something like “Love, Sally,” and yet you are certain Sally has never told you that she loves you. And how great is it to hear, instead of read, that someone loves you. Are there warmer words in the English language than “I love you”?

So it might be a bit ironic that the topic of this first-ever blog is the power of the spoken word, but I am praying that this writing will encourage you to think about the power of the words you speak. Maybe you will even call Sally and tell her that you love her.