Open Your Mouth

Posted on May 12, 2012


Cross-posted at wheat & tares.

A few days ago a friend sent me a long and specific email detailing how I had messed up. I value his opinion, so I read carefully. I had to agree with many of the points that he made. I had messed up. I began considering ways to make it right and I was back in the presence of the Lord pleading for His help.

Once upon a time that sort of feedback wasn’t terribly welcome, so it wasn’t terribly useful. I was hurt, offended, and would withdraw to nurse my wounds, dramatically ticking off on my fingers all my martyred efforts at doing right. It’s been a long road to value constructive criticism when it comes, but I now find myself almost going out of my way to stimulate it.

We live in a politically correct society, and I don’t always think that’s a bad thing. It’s a reflection of an evolved culture that values the intangible oil that makes our interactions run smoothly – mercy. I’ve frequently said that it’s a relatively small jump from political correctness to genuinely moral motivation. The unfortunate side-effect of all those public manners is an inability to face our own and others’ ugliness, to communicate clearly and without rancor that someone has messed up, to set boundaries, to call one another out.

Fascinated by the story of Job, I love the description of his friends coming to visit him. Prior to their visit the narrator intones: “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” When his friends came to visit, they waited with appropriate deference to his suffering, “So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.”

Nobody had sinned yet, because nobody had opened his mouth. As soon as they did, all kinds of stuff broke loose. False philosophies were trotted out, great swelling accusations of God and man were debated, and there was a whole lot of heat and not much light. One would think that it would have been better if they’d all just stayed silent.

However the entire poem is a metaphor for life experience and human communication, the kind that exposes false ideas deeply hidden in our souls so that they can be removed and we can be well. Job exited that painful exchange with a profound understanding that one does not earn earthly favors through obedience. His friends came to an understanding that their various philosophies did not have the power to save either. Everyone sinned, everyone repented, and everyone was better off.

All kinds of prophets have spoken about their feelings of inadequacy to preach the word and always they have been counseled to open their mouths. It’s an act of faith. It’s an act of humility, because not only might the Lord decide not to fill it, it might come out wrong. We might sin and have to repent. We might mess up, and publicly.

Thank goodness someone opened his mouth (in the Job story), even if a foot immediately took up residence.

When my children were young they watched Miss Frizzle on The Magic School bus say every episode, “Take CHANCES! Make MISTAKES! Get MESSY!” I can still hear Lily Tomlin’s voice in my head, because I used to raise my eyebrows from the other room and grit under my breath, “You best NOT.” I didn’t get that they would learn best if they were free to experience life instead of tiptoeing through it in spotless white shirts.

I’m more likely now to get messy. Surgery is messier than leaving things the way they are and pretending we’re well, but I want to be free of what limits me, and opening my mouth seems the most efficient way to find out what needs surgery inside. I hope people around me never cease to call me out, to have the faith to open their mouths. We may both spend some time at the feet of Christ, but that’s a good place to be.

What sorts of things do you appreciate people calling you out about?

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