Speak Life

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Words, words, words, wrote the Bard once in what can only be described as a literal moment of dramatic irony. Small things, words, but they do pack a punch. I think we all know that words are powerful. As a writer, I resonate especially with that sentiment; as a Christian, I cannot help but confess its truth. After all,

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” – Proverbs 18:21

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” – Proverbs 12:18

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1

In the deepest part of myself, I know this. I believe it. And yet, in the words–the wise and irrefutable words–of St. Paul: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Time and time again, I find myself biting my tongue, wishing I’d done it sooner. I see the look on my son’s face. I weep at a friendship I may have ruined beyond repair. I sigh over the missed opportunity to use my words to build up a fellow suffering pilgrim. I know I do not use my words as I should. I don’t do what I want, and what I hate I do.

Which of course, in the words of my best friend, simply makes me human.

It’s a fair explanation, but not an excuse.

If we’re going to talk about words, here, then it’s worth pointing out that Jesus never minced them. In Matthew 12:37, He has some pretty choice ones: “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”  And St. James, the one I named my firstborn son for, he doesn’t tiptoe round it, either.

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” – James 1:26

Ouch.

All joking aside, though, it’s a sobering thought. When I’ve got a pen in hand or I’m composing at a keyboard, I can usually muster the discipline to make it all come right, but when there’s nothing between my heart and the world but my capricious tongue, the words so often go awry.

That’s why this year, I am making one single resolution. It’s not about my food intake or my growing book list. Important as physical and intellectual health may be, I know my spiritual health is far more important, and the effects of its nurture or neglect will be infinitely longer lasting.

By this stage of life, I am not harboring delusions: I know I don’t have the power to correct this fault all on my own. Believe me, I’ve tried. This is going to take a work of God. Consequently, I plan to lift the cause of my tongue every day to Him in prayer, to be watchful and thoughtful as I try to learn what triggers it most to go off and to avoid those things as much as possible. I’ve also asked my sweet husband to help me by prompting me with a phrase or gesture whenever he hears my tone become harsh or my words err in a direction they shouldn’t.

The phrase we decided on? Speak life.

This is exactly what I hope to be doing more and more over the next twelve months. I anticipate it may mean my characteristically active tongue will be quieter than usual while I learn to better control it. Because I do find it far easier to simply put a lid on a thing altogether than to up and use it wisely. Hopefully, wise use will come with time and prayer and ever so much grace. Until then, I hope and I pray humbly with the Psalmist,

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

How about you, dear friend? Do you have a resolution for this year? What is God calling you to surrender to Him in prayer?

5 comments

  1. Amanda says:

    I have followed you for a long time. I read about the cancer, the births, James’ accident, putting Sophia in school (and pulling her out again), and your recipes and traditions. I was saddened by your Instagram today. I agree that we need to be welcoming of immigrants and refugees but I don’t believe Jesus asks us to have open borders or let people in to the country who might be dangerous. I know we live in different parts of the country but my family and friends have personally been hurt by crimes committed by people who came across open borders. We lived in fear because of the random targeting and shootings that were being done by a local illegal gang’s initiation. I don’t know if you have been personally impacted but I think you can’t assume we are all “haters” as your Instagram hashtags say. It really makes me sad because I did learn some things from you but I can no longer follow your blog. Best wishes to you and your family. I just wanted you to know that people who have different opinions might not be “haters” but might have personal reasons for their opinions.

    • Bethany says:

      Hello, Amanda. I don’t know if you will see this, but I just wanted to write and say I am so sorry you felt singled out by my words. I assume you are referring to the hashtag #nohatenofear that accompanied a photograph of myself and a friend at the Seattle march in protest of the president’s immigration and refugee ban. “No hate; no fear” was one of the chants from the march. It was meant to call attention to some of the unwarranted hatred and fear that is brewing in our country toward immigrants, refugees, Mexican-Americans and Muslim-Americans. You profess not to hate these groups, and so I am willing to believe you. I do feel called to continue to advocate for these groups and to speak out against those who legitimately do want to harm them. Peace + love.

  2. Amanda says:

    I think you missed my point. You seem to think that people who might not share your perspective are somehow all lumped into one category. We should be better than this as Christians. We should be able to really listen or read someone’s perspective and say, “Maybe they have a point. Maybe I can concede just a little, maybe I can bend a little.” Maybe I can say that illegal immigrant criminals should be deported but we can still help the ones who are here. Don’t create a false dichotomy. Don’t make your world so black and white that you can’t see the gray around you. The Church lives and breathes in the gray. The Church thrives in the gray. Stand up for immigrants; stand up for refugees, but when someone might suggest better border security instead of the open borders you want, listen to their concerns and don’t assume they are full of hatred. Don’t assume they are anti-immigrant or anti-refugee. Because it is in the labels that we lose. It is in the closing of our hearts to those who might have a different perspective on abortion or border security or gay rights that we cannot even engage in dialogue and tell them that Christ loves them and died for them. We can’t tell them the truth because we demonize them because of their perspectives (which might just be misinformed and if we only listened and responded compassionately, they might hear us).

    I also think perhaps you don’t need to use those hashtags if they are not representative of your perspective or your intent. You can choose your own hashtags that are more representative of what you personally believe and not just what is repeated at a rally.

    Also, don’t assume a whole group of people share the same opinion. I have learned, growing up in a diverse community (Northern Virginia), you must look at all sides of an issue and really listen. I have Muslim friends that are for the “terrorist state ban” and others who are against the “Muslim ban.” I have friends who are of Mexican descent or married to Mexican nationals who fall on both sides of the issue of illegal immigration. You can’t label someone based on their ethnicity or culture and say you are standing with them if you don’t talk to them and know what their perspectives are (because they are not all the same). But maybe you do know these people and I am just assuming reading your blog that you do not as I have never seen evidence of it here.

    Prayers for you and your family. I came back to see if you understood where I was coming from but since it is clear we do not understand one another, I will kindly take my leave and wish you the best with your blog and your life. May Christ bless you and keep you in safety and happiness.

    • Bethany says:

      With all compassion, Amanda, I want to assure you that I have not closed down my heart to dialogue. If I had done so, I would not have marched. I would not have said anything at all. I would not have responded to your comment. I did do these things precisely because I value dialogue, because I value people and their differing viewpoints. I am simply not persuaded by the arguments of those who support the president’s executive orders and his border wall. I could explain my reasons for my stance on these issues, but you did not ask, and I don’t think the comment section of a blog on motherhood is the best place to dig into such complex issues. 😉

      You believe that I have lumped “a whole group” of people under a single umbrella of opinion. That is simply not so. I am against a POLICY. I object to the president’s executive orders on very logical, well-researched, and sustained grounds. I am not alone. My protest is against those policies, not against people who (for whatever reason) support them. Are you suggesting that it is unChristian to ever disagree publicly with a policy which other Christians might support? I believe that it is possible to voice dissent and yet continue the discussion. To listen and yet be unpersuaded. I would like to believe that you have listened to me before deciding to hold to your own conclusions on these matters. You may believe I have listened to those who support President Trump’s policies. A large portion (though not the majority) of my friends and family do. I simply disagree with them.

      Thus far we are in simple disagreement. However, I cannot pretend not to be hurt that you would accuse me of standing in solidarity with people I “do not know.” At first, I did not even want to respond to such an accusation, because I could not believe that I might have to defend my exposure to people groups in order to be given credence for my decision to support them. For the sake of clarity, however, I have lived in South Central Los Angeles. Both my hometown and current home city are sanctuary cities. My best friend from college is from Mexico. Another of my bridesmaids immigrated to the US from the Philippines. I have a number of friends and family members who arrived in the United States on adoption visas. My family has volunteered with migrant workers in our area on a number of occasions through events sponsored by our parish. I also have friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who are Muslim, some of them immigrants, and the area in which I live has a sizable Muslim population and a very large immigrant population. Most often, I’m the only English-speaking parent at the playground. 🙂 I have especially listened and taken into account the thoughts of my friends who work in immigration law, the thoughts of my diocese’ auxiliary bishop, who is himself an immigrant, and my friends who work directly with our local refugee population. I have friends and family who served bravely in the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and I have also taken their thoughts into account – the majority of those I know who served in active duty in the Middle East are against the executive orders.

      But it’s so much more than wanting to protect those I know and love personally — I love people. If I believe a person is being treated unfairly, I will stand in solidarity with them, whether I know them or not.
      That is who I am. It is how I live my faith. I do not believe that all people who support the president’s ban are against Muslims, immigrants, or refugees, or that they do not love all people. It is simply that my concern for the just treatment of all human beings is of such a degree that I am compelled to stand beside them.

      Once again, Amanda, I am deeply saddened that you would take my objection to a presidential order as a personal attack. First, because it means this community will lose your fellowship. And secondly because it underscores what has frightened and saddened me most in our nation’s political scene these last few years: dissent and disagreement are now seen only in light of “us” and “them.” You say I do not understand you, and I must not, because it seems to me that it is this sort of pigeon-holing and labeling that you yourself are upset about. Yet, I feel that this is what you have done to me. I haven chosen to believe this was not your intent, yet I cannot help how I feel. The fact is, I posted a single picture with no more than three (I thought, innocuous) sentences about my decision to march in protest of certain policies, and you have gone on to fill in a great number of blanks without asking me once what I actually believed and why.

      I assure you, I have granted you the benefit of the doubt this whole while.
      I have never presumed to know your motives or your thoughts on any subject where you did not already freely share them. I assure you that I have listened to you and to many others whose opinions differ from mine, whether in part or in whole. I have prayerfully come to my own conclusions. I humbly hope you will respect my differing opinion, as I respect yours. God bless.

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