This series I’m writing is based on a simple idea: Each day, I’m going to wake up, pray and read in Proverbs with “parenting eyes.” Then I’m going to blog whatever comes to mind. This could be brilliant or an epic failure. But that’s the plan. The next set of entries will have to be different as the verses/chapters I’m reading are, as one of my former students referred to them, “Christian fortune cookies.” In other words, two lines of insight with no real connection or continuity among them for nearly 400 verses. So, there will be more smaller entries rather than longer ones and the verses will be pretty much randomly selected as ideas pop into my brain from wherever they are. Today, I read Proverbs 12.

Vignette #1: A Friday evening, in a minivan, with another couple & all the kids. Running late for the event.

Friend: I have to make a deposit because I need some cash. Just gonna get it at the drive-thru teller. (Upon seeing very long lines at every bay) Hey, nobody’s at the “business only” line. I’ll just pull up there so we can get to the game on time. (Upon the teller reminding my friend that it was the business lane and her transaction was personal) Is this the business lane? I really didn’t see the sign. I’m so, so sorry.

We pulled off, my kid leans over and whispers, “She’s a liar, Dad. Why didn’t she wait in line like she was supposed to?”

Vignette #2: A meeting over coffee with one of my students.

Student: So, why are we here? Your rule is that you’ll take any of us to coffee if we just ask you. I mean, you NEVER ask us to coffee unless something’s up. What did you hear?

Me: You’re right. I know. Here’s what I’m hearing: You were supposedly smoking pot at the party the other night. Either way, we have a problem, because if you were smoking pot at the party, well, we gotta deal with that. But if you weren’t smoking pot at the party there’s a group of people thinking you did and talking about it…and we’ll need to fix that.

Student: Well, I wasn’t. I can see why they think I was, but I definitely wasn’t. I’ll take a drug test. But how can we fix it?

Me: It won’t be easy, but will you come with me if I get the people together who were talking about it and let’s straighten the whole thing out? (She agreed. We did. It all worked out in the end.)

Vignette #3: A comment by someone at my old church whose opinion I value.

Person: “I really don’t think you’re at your creative peak right now. I’ve watched you over the years and it seems like you’re in a rut these days. I mean, the stuff you’re doing isn’t really bad. It seems to me it’s just not very innovative or creative these days.

(8 months later, after reading 3 books on improving one’s creativity, one of them a do-it-yourself course that required an hour a day for two full months): Hey, listen, have you noticed any changes in my creativity lately? I mean, after you said what you did, I took it to heart and tried to ramp it up in that department. So, have you picked up on some new things I’ve tried?

Person: Did I say that? Oh, yeah. Over lunch last time. I don’t know why I said that, really. I guess it was off-the-cuff and not thought through very much. I’ve always seen you as one of the most creative guys on staff.

Vignette #4: On a ski lift with a teen during the student ministry ski trip, and I’d been helping their family through some difficult days.

Me: Hey, Kid X, how’re things going around your house? I mean, we haven’t had a chance to talk one-on-one since your family has been coming to my office. You doing okay? Because from what I’m hearing things are getting better.

Kid X: You know, they really are. I mean, it’s hard being the youngest kid when the older ones all got into these bad habits of yelling and stuff and that’s what I was used to. Now we have to be calm and sometimes I don’t know how to say what I mean. It was easier to yell and just say whatever you wanted. So, that’s weird. But, my dad compliments me now. He tells me I’m smart and funny and he really means it. My mom told me how pretty I looked. My brother even told me that he thought I could be a serious artistic photographer the other day. We’re practically becoming The Brady Bunch. It’s a good weird.

When I read Proverbs 12, it seems like there’s several mentions about our words. Verse 5: The advice of the wicked leads to trouble. Verse 6: The comparison between the words of the wicked and the wise and their end results. Verse 8: A twisted mind will result in folks talking about it because they noticed. Same for somebody who speaks with wisdom. Verse 13: People who speak lies will get trapped by them. Verse 15: Listening to good advice is better than popping off about stuff you don’t really know about. Verse 16: If a fool opens his mouth, people notice it, and wise people know how to handle criticism. Verse 17: The importance of telling the truth as an accurate witness. Verse 18: Tells us the damage that can be done by harsh words. Verse 19: The reality that truth will stand forever, and lies wither away. Verse 22: We see how God values truth in comparison to how He sees lies. Verse 23: We see what foolish people do with untruths.

40% of this chapter deals with the power of our words…for good or for bad.

And, if you notice in each of the vignettes I listed (and I could write about this all day if I wanted with examples from over 24 years of student ministry) there are realties to seemingly normal events that affected us in various ways.

For example, my kid, who was 10, now had the opinion that one of my friends was a liar. I mean, it appeared harmless. Just a quick interchange so we would be on time to the event we were going to attend. No harm, no foul, right? In retrospect, I’m not sure I handled that situation well as a parent. There seemed to be a lot of moving parts to it. Trying to teach my kid to respect adults, trying to not to embarrass my friend in the moment with my kid’s loud whisper, not saying anything at that moment. In short, I don’t think I did well as a friend, parent or teacher to my kid in that moment. We just rolled on to the game and I don’t remember saying much if anything about it later.

In the second one, a rumor I overheard in the church hallway involved a one-hour coffee with my student, and another one hour meeting with the other three girls to straighten everything out. There were inherent lessons on gossip, perception, wise choices, et al.

The third one was a throw-away comment. That throw-away comment cost me about $100 bucks worth of books and two months of time–getting up an hour earlier every day for 8 weeks to complete the exercises in the book–because I wanted to get better at creativity and such. Imagine how I felt when I was told that the comment was kind of given in an unthinking manner. All I said in response was, “Sometimes I don’t think you know how much I value your insights.” Again, not sure I handled it all that well.

Finally, can you imagine this teenage kid who’d grown up in an unhealthy environment, watching her family life transform because everyone was making an effort to serve each other because they wanted to get serious about following Christ, all of a sudden, she’s hearing things she’d never heard before: That she was smart. That she was funny. That she was talented. Imagine how much those simple words meant to a girl who’d never heard them before. It was cool to see this family’s entire lifestyle change over the years…and still happening.

As a parent, the lesson is simple: We need to recognize the power behind our words. They have the power to build up. They have the power to encourage. They have the power to influence in simple ways (and today’s Election Day in the U.S., and I’m amazed at how parents have influenced their children with regard to political leanings. I’ve heard 5-year-olds say horrible things about the President of the United States…knowing full well where the kid heard them.) and incredibly meaningful ways.

They also have the power to destroy and tear apart and do much more harm than we know. And, as I learned the hard way, the things I DIDN’T say to one of my kids was noticed because I said them to the other kid.

And today’s entry is NOT written from a position of strength in the parenting process. In fact, I’d say it’s an area where I struggle greatly. Dealing with the tongue is tough for me. I’m an aging punk…given to strong opinion and strong worldview. I’ve also been cursed with an active mind and acerbating wit. I’ve been known to not only cut my kids to the quick, but also break their spirits. And you know what? I know immediately when I do that. And you can’t unsay them. You can only ask forgiveness or whatever.

So, I can take the advice of my friends in Northern Ireland, who playfully say “Shutcherbake” (in American, it would be “shut-your-beak) when someone at the pub is spouting off or they disagree or whatever, and know when to shut my own beak.

And work on saying more loving, encouraging, beneficial things.

Because our kids pick up on our words, for good or bad.
And imitate us in that way, for good or bad.

So let’s be careful out there, patrons. Our words matter.