For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. — Hebrews 3:4
Labor Day Weekend, 2012
There were only two of us who showed up to work this weekend, and the grunt laborer should have called in sick. The pay isn’t good enough to work through sneezing, coughing, nose running, head aching, sore throat type of days. But this is no union job, as the contractor husband reminded her several times.
We had only four days to get the job finished. It was already a week behind schedule (lumber shortages), so when the truck pulled in with thirty fourteen-foot pine boards strapped to the roof, everyone was ecstatic. (The contractor husband was driving the truck, so everyone amounted to one person.)
Fourteen-foot boards are long. Very long. Picture the Three Stooges episode with Curly carrying a board, turning around, and hitting Moe in the head. Each of these thirty fourteen-foot boards got moved at least nine times during this project. When the laborer complained that we seemed to be moving the boards a lot, the contractor husband got huffy. The contractor husband got huffy at least nine times during this project; the laborer complained — whined even — at least ninety-times-nine times during this project….
So, the laborer thinks, the wood is delivered, let’s get this stuff up and call it a day and have a beautiful new ceiling.
Hah, that’s why the laborer doesn’t get paid the big bucks!
First, the contractor husband goes over the boards with a micro-lens to detect knots, holes, and the tiniest indentations. Each imperfect spot is circled and wood putty is put on the small problems; bondo is used for the bigger holes. The repairs have to dry, then be sanded with fine grit sandpaper.
Then the boards are moved to a new spot and primed. Then the boards are moved to a new spot and sanded again. Then the boards are moved to a new spot and painted with a coat of semi-gloss latex…wait, am I repeating myself? There are thirty boards. It’s a small house. We covered the front yard, the back porch, and the living room.
It took three days of preparation before we could even think of putting them up onto the ceiling. Of course, they had to be moved again — outside to the saw — and cut to the correct length.
So far you have only heard the board story; the ceiling story is bad too. Of course, the ceiling isn’t level; it’s an old house and the kitchen is not exactly on a foundation — more like attached to the foundation. Shims take a long time to put up, but the laborer was busy painting and whining while the supervisor was quietly putting up shims and trying to not fire the laborer.
Monday morning dawned with a beautiful sunrise and the work crew was ready. By this point, all expectations of finishing the job were gone; but one point to remember is this: Prep work takes patience (I think I’ve mentioned before that I might be somewhat lacking in the patience department…) but if it’s done correctly, then the finish work goes quickly! The contractor husband has enough experience to know this; the laborer is still learning.
We worked well as a team on Monday (finally). Of course, the team effort had the contractor husband cutting the boards, as well as air nailing them in place. It was also his bright idea to wax the boards so the tongue would slide easily into the groove. All the laborer did was hold up her seven-foot half of the board and pound it into place.
At 4:30 we were having celebratory glasses of wine while looking at our new ceiling, all complaining, whining, nitpicking, and disagreements behind us.
It wasn’t an easy weekend, and there wasn’t much laughter. And later, looking back on the lack of good humor, it was clear that I was largely responsible. Aside from the fact that I felt lousy and calling in sick wasn’t an option, one of the main virtues that I did not exhibit was holding my tongue—or practicing the discipline of keeping silent.
1 Peter 3:10 tells us that “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.” Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” I have a friend who tells me that is her morning prayer each day—that God would seal her lips and keep her from hurtful talk, that He would “set a guard over her mouth and keep watch over the door of her lips”…(Psalm 141:3)
And what did I spend the time doing? I whined. I complained. I second-guessed the one who had infinitely more experience than I did. I proved the old axiom, “If Mama ain’t happy, Ain’t nobody happy.” And here in this confessional, I still find myself wanting to say, “Yes, but….”
No buts allowed. Silence is a virtue that we can learn. And when we want to say “Yes, but…” or “I don’t think…” or “That’s crazy! Wouldn’t it be better if…” or “I can’t believe we are doing this again…” just stop. Take a breath. Ask the Holy Spirit to keep those words in your mouth. Swallow them whole. They taste bitter going down; how much worse they sound coming out. Picture your words floating around in the air, never to disappear. Pray for silence because sometimes that’s the best we can do.
Do you know what that silence does? It buys us time: time to rethink what we really want to say; time to consider the conversation that we want to have; time to pacify the irritation, the impatience, or yes, the anger that sparks within. Remember the great forest that can be set on fire by the small spark of the tongue? The power of the Holy Spirit is a spark within us too, to help us overcome our sin nature and empower us to keep silent. Maybe in the end we will decide it is a conversation we need to have—when we are no longer angry. Or maybe it will be just another time of irritation that can be forgotten, and we can be glad that nothing unkind was said.
Ninety ninety-nine percent of the disagreements that I have with the contractor husband begin by one of us getting defensive or defending ourselves against an accusation. Even if it isn’t an accusation, but just sounds vaguely like it might be a criticism, we jump to it and explain, justify, and defend until it becomes a full-blown argument. In his essay “Five Vows for Spiritual Power,” A.W. Tozer lists never defending yourself as one of the vows that will give us spiritual strength. He says, “If you turn the defense of yourself over to God He will defend you.1”
How much more peaceable life would be if I could do that. Even the quiet little words, “But let me explain why…” seem to leap out of my mouth unbidden. Do I have to win every word battle? What makes me this way? I am reminded of Paul’s anguished comment, “…For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…” (Romans 7:18-19) Oh wretched woman that I am… Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? And the answer? “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)
The next time I am tempted to defend, insist, or grumble, I will put in my earphones and play worship music. How can I be disgruntled while singing, “More like you, Jesus, more like you, Fill my heart with your desire to make me more like you2.”
- I do not want to be a woman of unwise words.
- I do not want to be a woman who whines and argues.
- I do not want to be a woman who uses words as swords.
Jesus, touch my lips with holy fire, and make me more like you.
For further study, read James 3:1-6.
Questions for thought:
- James writes in verses 5-7: “…Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire…It corrupts the whole body…” If this doesn’t scare us to silence, what will? Consider when it is hardest for you to hold your tongue and why. Confess this to God, and end with a prayer asking Him to help you with keeping silent.
- There are times when disagreements need to be aired; I’m certainly not suggesting otherwise. How can we tell the difference?
- In Ephesians 4:22, 23, & 24 Paul writes, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self…to be made new in the attitude of your minds… and to put on the new self…” Three repetitions to change your attitude and your self. Yet we can’t do it on our own; the spirit has to help us. I began writing this essay many years ago, and now seven years later, I can say with complete truthfulness that it does not seem like there is any improvement. It’s absolutely depressing. Here’s what happens: I bite my tongue and don’t say the words, and then the bitterness explodes up into my brain. Where the thoughts fester. I just can’t seem to get rid of that old self…
- Sometimes it seems so hard to change my besetting sins. One of which is needing to say what I think ALL. THE. TIME. Here is where I need one of those arrow prayers — one sentence to pray each time I’m tempted. “Lord, set a guard over my mouth…”
- Here is a link to Tozer’s Five Vows for Spiritual Power.The five vows are:
- Deal thoroughly with sin
- Never own anything
- Never defend yourself
- Never pass anything on about anyone else that will hurt them
- Never accept any glory Even though in this essay, I wrote about number 3, number 4 is also relevant to our tongues and keeping silence. Interesting that of five vows for holiness, two are about words that we say…. Thoughts? (You might want to check out this short reading–the next essay here will be about number 2: Simplicity and your possessions…)
1 Tozer, A. W. Five Vows for Spiritual Power. http://www.neve-family.com/books/tozer/FiveVows.html