Deadly weapon

I’m in the process of teaching our 15-year old son how to drive. Since this is the third kid for me to teach this particular lesson, I know there’s a lot of important information to cover. There are the basics—which pedal is the gas and which is the brake, how to switch on the wipers and the turning signal and the headlights, and the meaning behind the various traffic signs. There are also nuanced skills, such as how to know that you’re in the center of your lane (new drivers are usually really scared of the series of mailboxes flying past them on their right and incoming cars whizzing by in the opposite lane) and when to start braking (they rarely start as soon as I’d like them to).

 

But before he ever sat behind the wheel, I told my son one of the most important truths about driving: This car is a weapon. I told him that a driver must take this task very seriously, paying close attention to the other cars and pedestrians around him. In the hands of a careless and distracted driver, this car is like a loaded gun just waiting to kill someone. This may sound severe, but I know it to be true, and I would be a fool to ignore my chance to warn him about life-altering mistakes before they happen.

 

We often concentrate on the physical dangers of recklessness, but it’s important to warn our children (and remind ourselves) of the perils of something much smaller than a car or even a gun, but deadly in a different way—our words. With a few choices words, we can tear down another person, and the better we know them, the easier it is to dismantle their self-esteem.

 

In his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum plays with the old adage which claims words can’t hurt us. Instead, he says, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” In most cases, bones can heal, but it’s much harder to forget the pain inflicted on us by a parent who says we’re too stupid or a spouse who says we’re too fat or a friend who says we’re not wanted. Words can create an inner scar. They can pop back into our thoughts decades later to remind us of our shortfalls. Especially nasty remarks can affect future jobs and relationships. They can be joy-stealers and future-destroyers.

 

In James 3, we read about the power of the tongue. We see that it’s capable of great things: “We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.” From the inspiring sermons of Dr. King to the sweet “Have a great day!” note your mom put in your lunchbox, words can make the world a better place.

 

But there’s a dark side to what the tongue can do. “People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth.”

 

The next time you’re in a car, safely passing other giant boxes made of metal and flame, consider the dangers involved. Then take a moment to reflect on the destructive power of your words. Steer both your car and your mouth as if lives were on the line.

Would You Rather?

Our youngest son was recently interested in the game “Would You Rather?” In it, a person asks another person questions like: “Would you rather have one thumbnail pulled off or all your eyelashes plucked out?” It’s meant to be a difficult task, choosing between two mostly equal options. But when Ezra posed the questions, he didn’t always grasp the required balance necessary to make the game fun. For instance, a few months ago, he went running down the driveway, shouting to a friend who was driving away to roll down his window. Then he asked, “Hey, Tyler! Would you rather fight a dog or eat a hot dog?” To most anyone, the answer was obvious.

 

If only all our choices in life were as easy as eating a hot dog instead of participating in a dog fight. Unfortunately, many of the selections we face are more like the actual “Would You Rather?” game. In the real world, there are nuances to consider and unknown variables and long-term consequences. Further investigations may be needed with possible pros vs. cons lists. “Would You Rather?” turns into What If I Don’t?and What Will It Cost? and Are There Better Choices?

 

I’m no expert on this and I’m sure to forget this plan way more than I will remember it, but I am going to try to use three key verses when I’m making a decision, big or small. (Note: I recently heard someone say that he even prays before he chooses which restaurant he should go to for lunch just in case God has a plan for him to go to a particular place. No choice is too small!)

 

  1. Listen carefully! Isaiah 30:21 tells us, “Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go, whether to the right or to the left.’” This listening may require a long, sometimes uncomfortable pause. As a people-pleaser, I’m working on listening better for God’s discretion to tell me when to say yes and when to say no.
  2. Look different! Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” I’m going to give myself permission to look different than the world, removing that ridiculous and unattainable burden of worldly achievement and flawlessness which can weigh me down.
  3. Live faithfully! In Joshua 24:15, we read some of General Joshua’s final words to the Israelite people. “But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua was taking the Israelites to an existential crossroads. He reminded them of all that the Lord had done for them, then he told them to make a choice to be faithful to the True God.

 

We will not always be given the greatest choices, forcing us to use phrases like “lesser evil,” “best of a bad bunch,” and “least bad option.” But, although we don’t live in a perfect world, we can serve a Perfect Lord.

What’s real?

As we watched a complicated battle scene in the new Mulan movie a few nights ago, my youngest son said, “It would be hard to be an actor.”

 

Assuming he was referring to the acrobatics required to do things like flip around on the back of horses while shooting arrows at a pursuing enemy, I replied, “It would. They must’ve practiced this scene a bunch of times.”

 

He paused a minute then said, “Yeah…and also why would you sign up for a movie if you’re just going to get killed?”

 

“Who got killed?” I asked.

 

“Well, that guy and that guy.” He pointed at the screen. “And that guy with the arrow in his chest. They’re all dead now. I wouldn’t want to be an actor.”

 

“They aren’t really dead!” I told him. “They’re just pretending.”

 

“Are you sure? They look dead.”

 

“I’m absolutely sure. No one was killed making this movie.” I thought for a minute, then added, “And it’s the same in other movies, too. They are always just pretending to die, and then they put fake blood on them.”

 

“Ohhhh…” At least outwardly satisfied by my answer, he finished watching the movie, hopefully with a new perspective about the craft of moviemaking and the exciting career of stunt professionals.

 

Reflecting on his film-related epiphany, I wondered if he’d been thinking this all along, that actors in the movies had been actually dying, like the man in the Darth Vader mask had really perished in Luke Skywalker’s arms. I also understood why he chafed at my frequent comments about how he should be an actor because he’s so funny and expressive and, let’s face it, very dramatic. While I thought I was paying him a compliment, he may have assumed I wanted him to kick the bucket on the silver screen.

 

Perspective is such an essential tool in understanding the motivations of another human being. The well-known phrase goes something like this, “To understand another person, you must walk a mile in his shoes.” I like Atticus Finch’s counsel to his daughter Scout even better in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

 

Atticus’ advice is more of a submission to empathy than just tying on a pair of shoes and going for a walk. It’s a desire to absorb every nuance of their viewpoint and outlook. How do they see the world and how does the world see them? But it’s possible to take this to the next step. Because even after trying our best to be empathetic, we may have to admit that the other person’s opinion just doesn’t make sense, and then what? Just agree to disagree? I’m sometimes challenged to figure out how to live on the same planet with some people so ideologically different than me, let alone the same country or even the same street. The only way to move forward is with a heaping helping of grace. In spite of how I feel about them and what evidence I have about the truth, that undeserved and magical gift is as much for me as it is for them.

 

I’m glad my son and I had our conversation about movies, because it gave me just one more glimpse into the mind of one of my favorite people. It’s a bit disconcerting to realize that he has been thinking that all of these actors have been dying voluntarily, and, even worse, that we’re all okay with it. But now that it’s out there, I can put it right. We can discuss it and the truth is revealed.  Then I can show him what’s real.