By Steven Norris
The cross landed in the grass with a thud. In a matter of seconds, a chainsaw had reduced its base to splintered wood once again.
I estimate that I had personally invested well over 30 hours into planning, collecting debris, building the stations, and installing them in their final location. A team of others put in close to 70 combined work hours as well to make the installation a reality.
On Tuesday, all of it was undone in about 30 minutes, hauled off to the county dump along with all the other debris from the storm. With the exception of a few small holes in the lawn and a collection of pictures, you would never even know that it had been there.
It is a lot easier to tear something down than it is to build it up. Whether we are talking about an art installation, a reputation, a person’s self-esteem, a friendship, or a career, painstaking labor and personal investment can be dismantled in a moment’s time.
In the book of James, we find this wisdom regarding the power to build up and tear down: “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”
How often do you think about the constructive and destructive power of your words? Too often, we are tempted to give a knee-jerk reaction to circumstances that bring up outrage or frustration. We try to justify words said in the heat of the moment that we might not have said upon true reflection.
The instant feedback loop of social media can often give us the sense of satisfaction that our complaints are shared. However, the ability to share those complaints without having to look into the face of the person to whom it is directed often heightens the intensity of negative expression. The normalization of such harsh and negative rhetoric only escalates the danger of real harm being done by words that, though they might be deleted, can never be unsaid or unheard.
As a pastor, I know that it is not the compliments, but the harsh words of criticism that often live on in my head in a seemingly endless playback loop.
Can I suggest that we all take a moment to consider the impact of the words we speak? During this Easter Season (this year, it runs through Memorial Day), could we commit to taking 30-60 seconds to think before we speak? What kind of difference might we see in our community if we committed to seasoning our words with grace — encouraging, affirming, and calling forth one another’s belovedness as children of God?