Sunday, August 14, 2011

Practicing the call to be "Slow to Speak"

I'm not sure where I heard this, though I am sure that it was when
I was a youngster... And I've heard it a number of times, in various ways,
over the years: These are some great "Guidelines" to help us with the
spiritual discipline of being "slow to speak", as we're encouraged to do
in James 1:19. Indeed, if we were to devote a great deal of energy into
just these three guidelines -- "be quick to listen, slow to speak, and
slow to become angry" -- what a blessing we could be to those around us,
and in so doing, co-operate more fully with the work of the Holy Spirit
inside us and display the glory of Christ more evidently to the world...

So here are some "guidelines" that can help us rein in our speech:

Is it TRUE?
We obviously ought not run around spouting things that are not True;
the absolute Lies are the easy ones. But what about things we say
that we do not KNOW to be True, for certain? Have we got our Facts
quite right? How much of what we blather on about is mere opinion?
If it isn't TRUE, then it shouldn't be said.

Does it NEED to be said?
OK so fine, it's true that that co-worker is lazy, or that man over
there doesn't bathe and is a rather disgusting fellow; yes, it's true,
those comments were sarcastic, but does it not foment additional
animosity to point it out? Might it not be more gracious to let it go,
and let the speaker (hopefully) be impacted by the silence that follows
their caustic remarks? All those bitter opinions, all those cut-downs,
the snide remarks, the brow-beating, the under-the-breath comments in
judgment of someone else... Even if these are True, do they really
NEED to be said? How are they a blessing to anyone who hears them??
If it's True but doesn't NEED to be said, consider not saying it at all

Does it need to be said RIGHT NOW?
There are many, many times where a given comment or remark is
purely benign, or maybe even helpful, and would be a good thing to say,
but is NOW the right time to say it? If my brother is hunched over the
motor of his car and is obviously straining and grunting, trying to get
the wrench positioned just right and is putting all his energy into the
effort, should I choose that precise moment to offer help, distracting him
and forcing him to focus on something other than what he's working so
hard at? Might it not be better to WAIT a minute or two? What makes me
think that my comment or question (True, and Needed) needs to be spoken
right now, urgently, no matter what else may be going on with those
around me?
If it's True, and Needed, but doesn't need to be said RIGHT NOW,
consider waiting to say it until a more appropriate moment...

Can it be said NICELY?
So fine, this all-important Comment or Remark or (often rhetorical) Question
is True, it Needs to be said, and it needs to be said Right Now... Can it
at least be said Nicely? My daughter is going out of the house in an outfit
that her parents don't approve of; our son is making a pest of himself in
a group of people we're with; my assessment of the situation, and the comment
I want to make about it is TRUE, and yes it probably does NEED to be said,
and because of the timing of the situation, it does need to be said RIGHT NOW;
but can I not calm my rising anger a great deal, take one second to breathe,
formulate a firm-but-encouraging Instruction for her/him, and deliver it with
a tone more like a "coach" than like a tyrant? How much more of a blessing
could we be to those around us if we simply spoke more NICELY, and with more
GRACE injected into our words and tone?
If it's True, and it Needs to be said, and it needs to be said Right Now,
then at least try to find a Nice way to phrase and deliver it...

It's not difficult to see that the first of these would capture a great deal
of what we let flow out of our mouths every day; the second would filter out
another huge segment; the third would relieve those around us of our self-imposed
sense of "urgency" to speak; the fourth would render what is left over much
more like "apples of gold in pictures of silver" (or, "a word fitly spoken",
and again, "a gentle answer turns away wrath")... Proverbs has quite a bit
to say on this topic.

May God Himself help us to devote ourselves to following these simple
"guidelines" for how we manage that poisonous piece of flesh behind
our teeth...
    "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


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Natural vs. UN-Natural LOVE

In thinking about our mandate to love God and to love those around us,
it's critical that we come to a deep understanding of what Love even means,
and that we dedicate ourselves to the life-long process of studying and
practicing Love... Make no mistake: The central theme and compelling directive
of the Gospel is LOVE; anything less is mere religion, and profits us nothing.

As I've noted here on TPoG before, there is perhaps no better Context in which
to understand and to practice True Love than Marriage; and in regard to this
"proving ground for Love", I had a realization yesterday that I don't think
I've ever had, before:

Married Love is UN-NATURAL.

I heard someone say recently that they know what "True Love" is, referencing
relationships with Siblings, Parents, and even that "first love" romance from
high school; but as I pondered this, I began to see a very clear difference
between these Loves and Husband-Wife love.

The Love one experiences for both Siblings and Parents is what might be called
"Natural Love", that is, it springs from a relationship in which we find ourselves
beginning at birth, having made no *choice* to Love and yet growing to feel,
naturally, the strength of a bond often described with the phrase, "blood is
thicker than water". We grow up in these relationships experiencing a deep filial
affection, a certain "you belong with me" connection that is, from the start,
a central part of our very identity; family ties are who we are, to a very
great degree, and while not all Family ties are necessarily loving and happy and
blessed, they are relationships we are born into, natural and normal
realities that define us throughout our entire lives...

Married Love, however, is NOT Natural, it is UN-Natural: It begins with a Contract
in which both parties vow that certain behaviors can be expected of them until
death parts them; it is the voluntary sealing of the relational "escape hatch" with
Vows that are meant to hold the relationship together specifically when one or the
other, or both, are desperately seeking a way out; and it is the life-long
determination of two deeply sinful and (often) wildly different parties to devote
themselves, BOTH of them, to building, strengthening, and deepening a Bond that is
designed to be "one flesh", a single, new "Super-person".

Contrary to Family love, Married love does NOT arise naturally, by definition; it is
NOT present from birth, and it is NOT an innate part of any of our identities; it
requires, like a garden, a tremendous amount of work, and maintenance, and care and
feeding, so that the couple can mutually enjoy the benefits of its Fruits.
The "weeds" of selfishness, and apathy, and indifference, and infidelity, and many
more, are a constant threat; and, tragically, its Bonds can be broken, by either
party at any time, whereas Family relationships cannot be, at least by definition,
ever be broken: We will ALWAYS be our Siblings' sibling, and our Parents' children,
no matter what any of us ever chooses to do...

Interesting, then, to consider that the relationship of Christ and His Church is
described, primarily, not as a "family" relationship but as a MARRIAGE relationship:
An UN-Natural relationship we must enter into by choice, from which we often stray,
and for which we must "die daily"... This UN-Natural Love requires commitment and
work and fidelity; and yet, ironically, its ultimate Fruit will, when we are finally
and perfectly Glorified, be the transformation of an UN-Natural Love into
a NATURAL Love, a Bond that will last for all eternity.

This then is the highest Love and the most dramatic of all, the epitome of
True Love, our deepest need and our greatest joy.