I’ve been known to have a sharp tongue. Don’t sit there at your computer with your mouth hanging agape while you read this. I’m not always the epitome of sweetness and light, just ask my family.
Oh, as a stranger or acquaintance, you might glimpse a flash of my temper if you really, really make me angry. I can deliver a strong tongue lashing, but in most cases, I try to curb my words and my fury.
It’s the right thing to do and most days I strive so hard to do the right thing, even though often I fail. Quite some time ago, I had one heck of a day, you know the kind where everything seems cattywampus, nothing works the way it should, people irritate you, and circumstances beyond your control frustrate you. And it was cold and rainy to boot. That kind of day.
Feeling totally exasperated, I pulled into a gas station to fill my car. But after a couple unsuccessful tries, the pump just would not work. I looked at the attendant, warm and dry inside the station, but he just stared out the window at me, exhibiting no signs of coming to my aid. Finally, I gestured to him (the call button didn’t seem to work either!) and he slowly meandered up to me with this insightful news:
“This pump isn’t working,” he said nonchalantly. “You’ll have to pull around to another pump.”
Grrr. Anger fueled by my frustrating day welled up quickly as I noticed the line of cars waiting for the other pumps. I glared at Mr. Helpful. He just shrugged his shoulders and that was the breaking point.
“Well, if you KNEW this pump wasn’t working, don’t you THINK it might have been a good idea to PUT A SIGN ON IT SAYING SO?!!!” I yelled. I whipped my irate words, each one getting louder and accelerating up a notch in angry tone, at him. Again he shrugged and started walking away.
“Thanks for nothing!” I mumbled as I climbed back into my car and he ambled into the station. I pulled my car around to the long line at the opposite island and waited…and waited…and fumed…and fumed. If my gas gauge hadn’t been so close to E, I would have driven away.
And while I waited, I sensed the Lord telling me I was being utterly ridiculous. What purpose did my anger serve? Was it righteous anger? No. Would my wrath right a wrong? Absolutely not. All it really did was raise my blood pressure and provide fodder for the gas attendant’s tales of how nasty and irate customers can be. But I was still hopping mad.
Finally, I nosed my car beside another gas pump, zipped my credit card angrily through the slot and started filling my car. As I felt fuel coursing through the hose into my tank, I also could feel anger pumping out of me as well. I felt like God’s presence was siphoning wrath right out of me. In its place came strong conviction as I realized my venomous words had just given every person who calls themselves a believer in Christ Jesus a bad rap. What kind of picture of a Christian did I paint? Not a very pretty one.
Cold and damp, I started to climb back into my car, but stopped, closed my car door and walked into the gas station where – you guessed it – there was a long line of customers waiting to pay their bills. I forced myself to stay patient and when my turn at the cashier arrived, I told her I needed to speak to the young man behind her.
She glanced at him as if to say, “Now what did you do?” He winced, walked up to the counter and looked at me like a beaten puppy. I suppose he expected yet another tongue lashing.
I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I want to apologize for yelling at you out there. I realize it’s not your fault the pump isn’t working and the station is so busy. So..,” I paused, “I’m sorry.”
His eyes widened in disbelief. His shocked co-worker looked warily at me then at him. “Okay,” he said. And that was that.
No illuminating beam streamed down from heaven. No harp music swelled loudly on the store’s speaker system. No one exclaimed, “Wow, you’re a great person!” Nothing miraculous occurred except within my heart because I knew – I knew - I had done the right thing. I did what Jesus called me to do, to apologize when I spewed forth unrighteous anger on someone.
Please don’t think I’m writing this to get any kind of accolades because I don’t deserve them. I’ve experienced way too many times when I have succumbed to most unrighteous things.
Instead I share my experience because I believe God asks me to relate the change I felt in my heart that day – the joy and peace that flooded over me because I obeyed my Savior and Lord, acknowledged my wrong, and doled out a little grace to someone else. Grace, not selfish anger, is what He grants to me every day, whether I deserve it or not.
Unfortunately, my impatience and frustration often get the best of me. I’m ashamed to admit in the past, my wicked tongue lashed out harsh words at those I love most – not strangers at a gas station – my husband and children.
But as I’ve matured both in age and spirit, I’ve allowed God to continue to mold me and change my ways. The still, small voice of the Spirit helps me curb my tongue, use self-control and stop myself before I react in angry words…most of the time. See, I’m still a work in progress.
Just the other day, I positioned myself on my front porch swing and read in the book of Proverbs again, noticing how many verses pertaining to wisely using words and controlling the tongue are underlined in my Bible. At some point in my past, I had drawn a star next to this verse:
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” ~ Proverbs 12:18.
Obviously, God kept trying to teach me a lesson I’ve needed to learn for many years.
While reading, I observed the ruby red petunias nesting in our porch boxes needed water. As I grabbed the watering can to pour fresh water on those flowers, an idea sprouted in my mind – I am just like that watering can! What pours from me when I am shaken a little or tipped?
When I pour forth words of blessing and encouragement on others, it’s just like cooling, refreshing water flowing out onto my flowers, which will be nourished and grow abundantly. But if words of contention or anger flow out of my ‘watering can’ over my loved ones and even those I find difficult to love, it’s like dousing flowers with poison. They will shrivel up and die.
My words have the power to be poisonous or encouraging and I have the capability to choose which they will be. Nourishing others and cultivating kindness is the right thing to do, even when I’m feeling impatient or frustrated.
In my sixth chapter of my yearly book of Opportunity, on this 28th page, and every day, I know that’s what God calls me to do and I’m going to try my best.