I shook my head in the negative at the incredulous 2nd grader’s question. “Nope, no tooth brushing, promise.” The rest of the Sunday school class watched me closely, curiosity piqued.
The five second and third-graders threw guesses back and forth like a hot potato as I placed the toothpaste tubes, a plastic knife, and a small paper plate bowl around the table.
Cole was with me that Sunday morning, and he fingered the travel-size toothpaste tube with a quizzical look. I hadn’t told him what we would be doing for the activity, and I had to grin at his and the other kids’ big-eyed expressions as they looked over the small tubes, the knife, and small bowl.
“Today’s activity should be easy,” I finally said. “Your job is to squeeze the toothpaste into the bowl, then use the knife to get it back inside the tube.”
I glanced around the table at blank faces and a couple surprised smiles, while my instructions digested in five unique minds. I saw my son shake his head, stubborn lines bracketing his mouth.
He simply said, “I don’t want to waste this.”
Another little boy dove right into the activity, relieved he didn’t have to brush his teeth and busily filling the paper bowl with an explosion of minty toothpaste. Yet another child, a thoughtful third-grade girl, did just what I asked, carefully squeezing it out then painstakingly using the knife to put the toothpaste back in. Ten minutes after we finished the activity part of the lesson, she was still meticulously wiping small dollops of toothpaste from the knife into the tube’s small opening, nearly accomplishing what was intended to be an impossible activity.
Like toothpaste squeezed out of a tube, once our words are out, they’re impossible to put back in.
“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” ~ Proverbs 10:19
That morning’s Sunday school lesson was from the book of James, and the lesson focused on the idea that God wants us to watch what we say – in fact, His word leaves no question that Christ-followers must watch our words…because we can’t get them back once they’re out.
James doesn’t mince words about the power of the tongue.
“Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!…But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” ~ James 3:4-5, 8-10
The lesson in James reminded me that it’s very easy to speak words like raging floodwaters…to allow dozens and dozens of words out without truly thinking about what we’re saying. Or, who we’re saying them about. As a mom, I realize that my boys’ ears are active radars connected to young minds – minds that wonder and ask and seek to understand everything around them.
Later, as the boys and I walked our dog around the neighborhood, Cole asked me a doozy question.
“Are you proud that you had me?”
I gave it a heavy moment’s thought, trying to wrap God’s word into my words, knowing my son might remember these words on into the vast horizon of his life.
“We’re thankful you’re healthy, and that God gave you to us, and we’re proud that you’re kind and thoughtful. But we’re really glad that you love Jesus. And it is good that you’re smart and curious, but mostly we’re glad you want to know the Bible and God more.”
Later, I thought about the fine line between building our children up with our words of praise and pride, yet reminding them that their accomplishments aren’t as important as showing love to others and knowing God more.
This New Year, I’m prayerfully remembering that my words to my children – and others – can become sharp bullets inflicting life-long damage, or they can become tiny gifts of love that will take root and grow into beautiful flowers blooming with grace – saving grace to pass on to others, that mirrors God’s amazing grace through Jesus.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” ~ Proverbs 25:11