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.

Just

I’ve come to believe that words are very powerful. With only a slight change in wording, the intended meaning can be completely altered. For example, imagine you’re shopping with a friend and unsure how you look in an outfit you’ve tried on. Standing in front of one those giant dressing room mirrors, would you rather hear: 1.) “You are not fat.” 2.) “You are not thatfat.” Four little letters but the difference is night and day.

 

Depending on the language, vocabulary can be very confusing. As my African-born son can attest, English seems unnecessarily tricky with so many synonyms that mean the same thing and homonyms which sound the same but mean something different and words with multiple meanings. You could argue that its complexity makes our language richer, but if you’re new to English it just makes you want to plug up your ears and go back to bed.

 

One word with many varied meanings that I’ve recently noticed I may overuse is the adjective/adverb just. Beside its connection to fairness and morality, it can also mean now, only, barely, simply, recently. I use it all day long.

 

“Mom, when’s supper?” It’s just5:00. You can’t be hungry yet. Eat this carrot.

 

Later that night, around 7:00 pm: “Mom, I’m hungry.” What? We justate!

 

You made it justin time. Give me justa minute. We’re justgoing to one store. Justsit there and think about what you did!

 

I’ve also noticed how often we use the word justwhen it comes to faith. If you’ve got a very sick relative and people ask you how they can help during such a difficult time we often say, “Just pray.” There’s a note of last resort here, as if seeing that all the spots for bringing supper to the family are filled, you might as well give them the job of merely praying.

 

But in this context, it could also mean you are giving this goodhearted friend a very simple, specific yet important task. “Just pray,” you say. “Set aside whatever doesn’t need doing right away and beg God to intercede. Please make this your focus today.”

 

Looking at the lyrics to the gospel song “Closer Walk with Thee,” we see justused to describe a scene which would be anything but ordinary: “Just a closer walk with Thee/Grant it, Jesus, is my plea/Daily walking close to Thee/Let it be, dear Lord, let it be” We don’t merely walk with God like it’s no big deal. We strive for a complete connection, justas in onlyis the goal.

 

If you search the Scriptures for instances of the word just, you’ll have plenty of reading. You’ll find “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” in the Old Testament and “People brought all their sick to Jesus and begged him to let the sick justtouch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed” in the New Testament.

 

With a possibly ambiguous word like just, we have to pause and determine which meaning is intended. Then we see Noah’s preciseness in his obedience and Jesus’ mighty power to heal. Such a tiny word but packed with so much capability.