On Verbal Zings and Muddy Springs

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A_AnneMarieToday. Walking in the backwash of the cross and before the resolution. Destruction eddies in the streets. Disappointment. Hopes crushed.

And all the small ones hiding in doorways and barns and fleeing to the edges of the city, of Jerusalem. Wrapping themselves in their cloaks and aching for a little comfort. We stand there too, in the shadows of the torches, unable to look away. Grief torn. Our hope has been locked up in a tomb. Again.

I’m still gazing at that man up there on the cross. That one who’s laid out in a dark place today, partly because of me. And how different we are. About the miracle of God’s tender soul that went on there, and how much I’d like to reflect that. To be able to take in jeers and taunts and belittling comments, and pour out nobility. Except…

I have this heart that’s so tender, it’s like carrying a hand grenade out in public, without the pin.

Here’s the scenario: You’re speaking honestly about a genuine challenge or struggle. The person in front of you is someone who knows your story. You think, “Hey, they can see what we’ve been through, how this situation hasn’t shifted in spite of our prayers, and effort, and sorrow.”

That things aren’t always a mess because you’ve done something wrong.

And ZING—there it is. The comment that says, “What’s your problem, I’ve got this wired,” or that condescends, and leaves you feeling weak, stupid, lazy, or … fill in the blank from your own favorite self-reducing comments. You’ve opened yourself up and they’ve used the opportunity to make themselves look bigger, stronger, at your expense.

For some reason, I still let these silly attempts to one-up rebound into my deepest sense of myself. The unexpected slight works a knife in under my carapace and flips my shield off—like a comment about my clothes, or about one of my children when they’ve shown their humanity in some kind of error or mistake.

Why do I care? Yes, I do ask myself that question. Doesn’t really help.

And then there I am—bitter, angry, spitting resentment or defensiveness. Whoa!

This verse keeps going through my head:

“Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it?” (James Ch. 3, The Message)

Brackish water. Poke me too hard, and I spew it. My husband and sons are most likely to get soaked, as they’re nearest. I’m so dismayed when I read, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Is mine that muddy?

Jesus—Nothing could produce a brackish response. With each hole they poked in him using insults and spears and thorns, he oozed pure, clear water: forgiveness, concern, provision for others. And he saw around the evil cloaking him to the ones he loved, and provided for them. John, here’s your mother, Mother I’m giving you a son … Miracle.

In the face of evil, he spewed mercy and life.

But we are not Jesus, and James says no one can control the tongue. No. One. And what lands on the lips comes from the heart.

So what do we do? Lord, have mercy! What works?

For me, the answer has not been what I’ve expected as I’ve sat with all this.

It’s not to try and be so quick, funny, and hard-to-flap that things bounce off–because that’s, well, not possible. And I don’t want an armored heart, or beauty and the suffering of others might bounce off too.

Lately the answer is to rest on the pure esteem of Jesus for me. Listen when He says, “drop it” as I’m worrying an old bone, unkind comment, or unhelpful attitude. To “Come away from there,” as I’m seeking esteem from some person, endeavor, or situation unable to give it.

I believe this is my job, now. To step away from those things that muddy the waters of my heart.

Jesus doesn’t expect me to be the perfect word-warrior in a harsh world of verbal battles and unkind slings. He does ask me to “come away” with him, then go where he directs my footsteps. Backed by the confidence that I am perfectly acceptable and lovely in his sight.

“He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.” So fresh water, not brackish, might flow out. So I might be a small bit like him in the face of unkindness or ugliness. Both undistracted and undeterred.

Tomorrow, Jerusalem will be quaked by joy, and all the muddy springs made clean. Mine, yours, all of ours. Fresh water welling up to eternal life.

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Image credit: Linus Bohman

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