(not so) Tongue Tied

Here’s an unusual way for The (not so) Special Mother to start a blog post: with some Bible verses.  Check it out.

James, Chapter 3, verses 3-9

If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies.  It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.

Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze.  The tongue is also a fire.  It exists among other members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna.  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. {Emphasis in bold is mine.}

Martin Luther called Saint James the “epistle of straw,” but between you and me, I think it’s because James upholds so many Catholic beliefs, and we all know how old ML felt about the Catholic Church.

However, this post isn’t about the differences between Protestants and Catholics (which are far fewer than you think) or about theology at all, really.

It’s about tempers and tongues in general, and mine in particular.

I happen to love the whole book of James.  You seldom hear anyone quote him, or read from his letter. In reality, though, he pulls no punches, and I think he pretty much spells Christianity out in black and white.  My extremely brief synopsis of James’ letter is this–stop telling everyone you’re a Christian and start acting like one.

As much as I love reading James, and as much as I sit and nod my head, as much as the Protestant in me wants to jump up and yell “Amen, brother!” I find myself quite the hypocrite.

Do any of you have a temper?

I mean, everyone gets mad sometimes.  That’s human nature.  But I’m talking about a temper.  TEMPER.  The kind that takes a whole lot to trigger, but once it is triggered, look out.  The kind of temper that explodes and splashes molten rage on whatever poor soul might be in the vicinity.  The kind of temper that causes normally nice, kind hearted people–people who would never say hurtful things to anyone, especially someone they loved–to spew forth angry words and actions, consequences be damned.

You know, that kind of temper.

Guess what? Yours truly has that selfsame temper, and it has been a plague my whole life.  I had hoped, as a younger person, that when I become older, I would learn to “control” this unpleasant facet of my personality.  That it would somehow fade into little more than an unpleasant memory.

Well, it hasn’t, and I daresay it has only changed its ugly form.  Now it takes much more for me to lose said temper, but when I do, it seems as though I have less control over what I do, and more importantly, what I say, than even I did when I was younger.

I can make excuses about this, but I’ve had a hell of an examination of conscience over the past couple of weeks, and I think a “temper” is little more than an excuse to behave poorly, and to speak cruelly.  Aside from a small percentage of the population who may have some sort of emotional or behavioral disorder, do any of us really “lose control” of our tempers, or do we simply give up control, because it makes us feel better to say all of the ugly things that can flash through our minds in times of upset and stress, and of course, anger.

Chew on that one for a while.

James says our tongues are impossible to bridle, “a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? Oh, the harm we can inflict with our words, but oh, how easily we allow them to “slip” out.  All in the name of anger, and our tempers.

I myself have spewed deadly poison on more than one occasion.  And I am no rookie–I know just the words to hurt and cut.  When I get mad enough, I can fire with deadly accuracy right into the heart of anyone, even my nearest and dearest.  Right now half the country is clamoring for gun control, but sometimes I wonder if we’d all do a little better with some tongue control.  God knows I could.

My temper is no excuse.  I am a fully functioning human being–I have absolute control over all of my faculties.  Why should the tongue be different? What excuse should allow me to say horrible things? Because I got mad? How foolish.  How childish.  If we can’t even control the words the come out of our own mouths (or that we type on the screen), how are we better than even a child? James says we praise God with our tongues, then turn around and curse the very people who are just like us–human beings going through the same struggles as all the other human beings on the planet–and, more importantly, all made in the image and likeness of God.

So the next time I feel a temper tantrum coming on, I’m going to try to do better.  I’m going to remind myself of all of my own shortcomings.  I’m going to think of the feelings of the person I’m getting ready to blast.  Even if it seems like they have no feelings, I’m going to think about the awful, hateful taste those anger-fueled words leave in my own mouth.  I’m going to remember that James says our tongues are full of poison, and then I’ll realize that our tongues are in our own mouths.

So who is the one really getting poisoned?

Think about it.




Dear Ian……Love, Mom

After Ian was born, I started keeping a notebook for him.  It’s one of those black and white composition books–you know the kind.



I just wrote various things to him as they crossed my mind. I put current events in there and give him my thoughts, like the entries on 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing.  The idea was that when he grew up, he could have it and read it, maybe even after I was gone. (You know, like to Florida or something.)  I had a similar book for Matt that I wrote after we got engaged.  I gave it to him as a wedding gift.  I also have one for Evelyn, but I’m pretty sure she’ll never read it, so it’s a lot more like a journal. 

Anyway, I was reading through Ian’s book, and for whatever reason, I decided to share one of the entires (letters, whatever.)

February 10, 2006

Dear Ian,

I was thinking about something last night when I was supposed to be sleeping.

Words hurt.

When you’re six, it’s different.  You say things and people might get mad at you or you might get in trouble.  But all in all, people tend to forget the mean things little kids say. 

But I want you to remember something–there will come a time when you will have to be accountable not only for the things you do, but for the things you say.  In a book by Stephen King called The Green Mile, he says “A man’s mouth can get him more trouble than his pecker ever could, most of the time.” That’s not trouble at school like getting your card flipped, but trouble like saying something that you can never take back.

Once that cruel word comes out of your mouth, it’s out forever.  You can’t “unsay” anything.  Hurtful words make a brand on a person’s insides, and even if you are forgiven, even if they forget, you need to remember that the brand remains.  They will always wonder why you said it–you must have had that thought in your head all along.  It’s okay to say, “That makes me mad,” or “I don’t like that,” or “You did something I don’t like.”  It’s never okay to say “You’re ugly,” or “stupid” or “You always do this” or “You never do that.”

These things don’t just apply to your friends and loved ones.  There might be a kid at school that everyone picks on.  You might find yourself in a situation where you could pick on that person, too.  You should imagine yourself as that person, and feel those words from the inside.  You can’t imagine how badly they can hurt–and who wants to look back and see they had such a negative impact on someone else’s life?  How sad to think that what you left behind in another person’s mind is hurt.

One last thing–back at the beginning of January, thirteen coal miners got trapped in a mine.  Twelve of them died because they ran out of breathable air.  As they sat and waited for rescue or death, they wrote notes to their families in case it wasn’t the rescuers who arrived first.

It wasn’t.

Twelve of the thirteen died waiting.  What must that be like? To sit and write out all of the things you want to say to your loved ones before the end of your life, and wish so much that you had said them in person.

Some of us say things that we would never want to be the last thing we said to someone, but there’s no guarantee that it won’t be.  If there’s one thing your mother has learned over the years, it’s that, in this life, there are no guarantees.  Remember that.

I love you,


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