Bite Your Tongue
By Jane Thornton –
“I know everything in the world.” Matthew, age five, piped this amazing assertion from the backseat as we drove along on daily errands.
Communication experts say to repeat what you hear to ensure your understanding. Managing to mask my doubts, I questioned, “You know everything in the world?”
“How did you learn everything in the world?” By this time, I had learned that further questions often revealed a wonderfully entertaining imagination.
“Brandon met the real Jesus, and he told me everything Jesus said.”
“Brandon met the real Jesus?”
“Yeah, and he said Jesus told him everything in the world, and he told me everything Jesus said. He even told him how to work a typerwrater.”
Although we could garner some great lessons from this precocious conversation on sharing the real Jesus with others, I want to focus on that first staggering statement. Sixteen years later, I sometimes think my son would still stake that claim.
My greater fear is that people might perceive a know-it-all attitude in me. I’ve been guilty before. An unforgettably humbling moment came at the hands of a co-worker in an elevator some twenty years ago. Although her exact words are lost, I remember clearly the sarcastic sting of her accusation that I always corrected their grammar. Scarier—I had been unaware of the obnoxious habit.
And obnoxious or not, I am still tempted to be didactic at every turn. I can justify such teacherishness in the classroom, but most companions find it very irritating outside of those bounds. (Actually, my students find it irritating, too, but endure because it’s my job.) At first, I preened when my critique partners called me a grammar guru. However, on second thought, perhaps to most of the world, that phrase is an insult!
Grammar forms only the tip of this dangerous iceberg. I grew up in a church with a history of hellfire and brimstone exclusivity. Even though my own home was full of teachings on grace, I apparently managed to pick up some of those condemnatory phrases. At one late night dorm session my freshman year, I had been holding forth on Truth, Justice, and Jane’s Way. My friend said, “So, you think you’re the only ones going to heaven?”
I gasped. No, no, no. How had I communicated the very sentiment I so opposed? Somehow—word, tone, expression . . . something—conveyed a self-righteous attitude. Yet, we are called to share our faith and convictions. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage” (II Timothy 4:2a NIV).
As usual, we must find balance. I left off the end of that quote: “with great patience and careful instruction” (II Timothy 4:2b NIV).
Although not mentioned by that particular verse, prayer should precede our corrections. Does that public speaker really need his grammar error pointed out? Is that friend’s habit just a foible or a fault? Is it my place to be the teacher?
I pray for wisdom to balance the instructions in II Timothy with these: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19 NIV).
Comment Prompt: Share a time when you mis-communicated. Did you have a chance to work it out?