I spent some time being upset by the derogatory remarks made by talk show host Don Imus about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Then I spent some time in quiet reflection and prayer.
The first thought that came to me was this question: "How's your conversation these days?" This wasn't exactly the inspiration I'd expected, but since it felt like an answer to my prayer, I decided I would take it seriously.
I thought about how I watched the news. I realized that I was constantly commenting on it – carrying on a mental conversation. My reactions and comments were either horrified, angry, or judgmental. I justified my reactions by telling myself that people were doing something wrong and that I couldn't help feeling these emotions.
But praying about this was helping me feel a bit more open and humble. So what once seemed like such rational and plausible justifications for criticism began to feel a bit flimsy and self-serving.
I'm an avid Bible reader, and I recently read a story that Jesus told about those who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.
Two men went up to the temple to pray – one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee prayed like this: " 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'" The tax collector stood at a distance, not daring even to look up, and said, " 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "
Jesus' comment: " 'I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted' " (Luke 18:9-14, New International Version).
At first I thought this story made some good points but that it wasn't aimed at me. Then it struck me that I was doing the same thing: sitting back and feeling pretty righteous while I judged others.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, said to her students: "...guard your tongues. When you see sin in others, know that you have it in yourself and become repentant" (Robert Peel, "Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority").
Why is this comment important? Because our conversations, our thoughts and views of others, contribute to the mental climate in the world. And our words and actions can support another rather than tear them down.
Paul's beautiful letter to the church in Corinth describes how love is the greatest quality of all – even greater than hope and faith. He said, "This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience – it looks for a way of being constructive" (I Cor. 13:4, J.B. Phillips).
Recently I disagreed with an-other person's approach on a project we were working on together. I tried to get her to see things my way. But after a couple of days I felt uncomfortable and uneasy. That's when I got quiet and prayed. As I drew closer to God and wanted to hear His direction (more than my own opinions) I became more peaceful.
God's message to me was to stop being argumentative and combative – that I had something better to contribute.
I dropped my hostile attitude and focused on the things that this person and I agreed on. What a difference. I felt calm. And I honestly respected her views of things. We were able to go forward in a more positive, productive way.
Cleaning up our conversations, with others or with ourselves, isn't about just being nice. It contributes to changing the world.
As he which hath called you
is holy, so be ye holy
in all manner of conversation.
I Peter 1:15