I was reflecting recently about a time a few years ago when I completely blew it.
I was picking up my daughter from a late evening practice. It was dark outside as we drove and talked about her day. I was heading south on Taylor Road in Columbus and approaching a stoplight where there were cars already stopped three-wide.
All of a sudden, mid-sentence, a man and a woman wearing dark clothes walked out from between the vehicles and directly in my path. I slammed on the brakes and was able to avoid a disaster. The only problem is that the guy gave me a dirty look, as if I had done something wrong.
And then I did the unthinkable.
I yelled, “Watch where you are going! You idiot!”
It absolutely kills me to tell that story. I never call people names. Never.
I rarely get worked up enough to get angry at anyone. That is why it kills me to write that down and share it with you. You may be thinking, “Lighten up Brandon. Everyone is entitled to a little road rage now and then. Besides, that guy deserved it, right?”
I get it.
But man, ever since that happened the Spirit had been sitting on me like an elephant. There had been a disturbance in the Force, if you will. So much so that the next day, I wanted to find some time with my daughter so I could apologize to her.
She was doing her homework the next evening at the dining room table. I asked her if she had a second.
“Hey, I want to apologize to you for the way I acted and what I yelled at that guy last night.”
“Uh, OK,” she said. “I don’t see why you have to apologize to me though for something you did to someone else.”
She had a good point, but I couldn’t get off the hook that easily.
“The reason I have to apologize to you and ask for your forgiveness is because I have been entrusted by God and given the awesome responsibility to teach you guys by my words and actions how Jesus would be toward people … and I completely failed at that last night. Do you forgive me?”
Still thinking of ways to help me get off the hook, Anna said, “You know dad, I am not sure that the guy even heard you.”
To which I responded, “Anna, whether he heard me or not is inconsequential. It is what was in my heart, not the words I used, that was the problem. I am really sorry about that. Will you forgive me?”
Of course she did.
So why do I tell you this story?
Well, first, I want to be honest and let all of you know that just because I write a nice column and have a cool podcast, I am still a work in progress. And that should give each of us a tremendous amount of hope.
No matter where you are in your life and no matter how close or far from God you might think you are, God always unconditionally forgives and works moment by moment to transform you into something exceedingly more beautiful and loving than you ever thought possible. It’s only by the power of God that I can see my sin clearly and ask for a new heart.
But even more, Jesus equates name-calling to murder. I know you may be rolling your eyes at this point, but hear me out. If any one of us calls our fellow human being a fool, or an idiot, we suffer the same judgment as one who commits murder.
But how can the words we use even begin to be as bad as murdering someone?
As with murder, our verbal insult or attack dehumanizes our victim. Our careless, hurtful, negative words are like daggers that penetrate deeply and then severely wound that person at the soul level.
That is how seriously we should take the words we use, because they really matter, they have a deep and lasting impact and they can kill a person in ways we may never know or understand.
So this isn’t just Jesus creating a new law or new commandment that we ought to follow. But rather, it is Jesus showing us that our words significantly matter in the lives of others and they emanate, or spring forth, from what we have in our hearts.
And from a heart that ought to work toward the healing and restoration of people, for the lifting up and edification of our brothers and sisters, for the value and dignity of every human life and for the blessing and reconciliation of people and relationships, I significantly failed.
In the tenuous and divided country in which we live right now, where dehumanizing others and name-calling are our primary modes of operation in dealing with those whom we disagree, let us not forget that the words we use have value and power, for good or evil.
For every kid in school who is battling through bullying and harassment, contemplating his or her worth and value, and teetering on the edge of killing himself or herself, let us not forget that the words we use sometimes can be the difference between life and death for others.
For every person who has been torn apart and ripped to shreds their entire life and just can’t handle another hostile and demeaning word, let us not forget that our every word can be the fatal blow — or the one which brings a person back to life.
Let us not forget that our divisive and hateful words are as lethal as a weapon used to murder. Let us not forget that the words we use are indicative of a deeper heart problem and the place in which our words are ultimately rooted. And let us be individuals who are cut to the core when we use careless language to hurt, wound or dehumanize another person, and then let us look inwardly to see what healing we need at the heart-level.
For the words we use can be powerful weapons that wound, kill and destroy, or instruments of blessing, healing and life.
Brandon Andress of Columbus is a former local church leader, a current iTunes podcast speaker and a contributor to the online Outside the Walls blog. He can be reached at his website at brandonandress.com.