This tree is out near our garden. The ice storm last winter was not kind to it, but it has given me pause every time I've gone out to the garden since spring hit and leaves began to appear.
Life and Death - side by side - in the same tree.
Each time I look at it, these words of James, the brother of Jesus, spring to my mind...
No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
I think James' point is that this ought not be. But it so often is, isn't it?
Life and Death
Praises and Cursing
I've seen the looks in my kids' eyes, in my husband's eyes. In the eyes of some that have come to me for counsel.
At times I've spoken encouragement in the face of their despair, I've spoken gentleness when correction is needed, I've given respect to their pain, I've spoken grace when disagreements arose. And I see the healing in their eyes.
Other times? I've spoken harshness in the face of their despair, I've spoken critically when correction was needed, I've made light of their pain, I've spoken with judgment when disagreements arose. And I see death in their eyes.
Life and Death. Praises and Cursing. How can these things live in the same heart? Flow from the same mouth?
James says they ought not. I agree.
So what do we have to do with that tree to see it healthy again? We have to cut out the dead parts. This will encourage the healthy parts to flourish and will help avoid decay that starts when we allow the dead limbs to hang around there too long. It's probably going to be awkward for a while - lopsided, out of balance. But eventually, it will be good, right, beautiful again.
I need to handle the parts of me that speak death and discouragement with the same aggressiveness. It needs to be gone.
It's easy to make excuses...
It's easy to make excuses...
"I've always responded this way."
"They don't listen unless I raise my voice."
"I'm sarcastic - it's who I am - they'll get used to it."
"Everyone has something - this is my thing that I just can't beat."
"They're just words - they just need to toughen up."
But those are excuses. They allow decay and rot to set in. Death.
I want my words to foster healing. I want to speak life.
A bit later James gives us a hint on how to fight this battle...
The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
That doesn't leave much room for all my excuses. A mentor I used to have would say that we can't just simply remove the bad - we must replace it with the good. So, instead of making my excuses, I must get rid of it - aggressively. Just. Stop. And then replace those words with those that are pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial and sincere. That won't leave much space for judgment, for sarcasm, for harshness.
It may occasionally leave us feeling a bit awkward, lopsided, as we learn new ways to think and act. But we'll get there. One day at a time - to become something good, right and beautiful.