I was seated across from him at lunch; trying to have an earnest conversation. But my conversation attempts were constantly thwarted by the Houdini of nose hairs. Sometimes it wasn’t there; sometimes it was. I it appeared; it escaped! I couldn’t tell what made it come or go; was it the waitress? Was it the salad? Was it something clever I said? And why did it flick out from its hiding place for only parts of our conversation? I managed to keep a straight face during the conversation but, trust me, IT WAS VERY, VERY HARD!
This particular nose hair was one of those very long gray ones that lash out like some kind of nasal switch blade; determined to slice and dice (or at least tickle) anyone that got in its way. I could not tell what made it sometimes pierce the air between us and sometimes duck for cover. I also wondered how a (what seemed to be) six-inch nose hair could appear, disappear, and reappear without its human host head noticing.
I am puzzled by nose hairs and their auricular cousins: ear hairs (Don’t get me started on ear hairs–I mean, if you’re going to have ear hairs, shouldn’t you have enough ear hairs to keep your ears warm? But no, they manifest only in groups of two or three, parading themselves for all the world to see [after you, yourself, look away from the mirror in the morning], but are totally useless. You can’t even comb them up to the top of your head to make up for the retreating head hairs. Life is decidedly not fair.)
Nose hairs don’t show up until later in life; usually. They remain latent until, detecting the creeping advance of middle age, they suddenly announce themselves one morning in the mirror. And–they are completely useless. They are annoying and, no matter how much you trim or pull (which is hard; gripping a nose hair to pull, that is); THEY KEEP COMING BACK! You cannot make them go away; as much as you might try; they are resilient; they are the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae facing the menacing might of the Persian Empire; they will not fall (out, that is).
It occurred to me a while back that the Body of Christ suffers from a strikingly similar problem. Just like nose hairs, it keeps coming back. You can’t seem to kill it off and it is also decidedly not helpful. In fact, it’s downright harmful. And, unlike nose hairs, not in the least amusing.
What is this menace in the Body of Christ? It is harmful speech. Words spoken to wound. Words spoken carelessly. Words spoken from a presumed superior position. Words that cannot be retrieved once spoken. Words that land in the middle of someone’s spirit like a neutron bomb–their outward bodily appearance is intact, but the killing effect of the “radiation” has taken deep root.
Why is it that, in Larry Crabb’s words, what is supposed to be the Safest Place on Earth, is often the source of such ruinous speech? For the life of me, I cannot figure out why people, who have been redeemed by the preeminent act of grace, can be so profoundly graceless in our speech. It’s a puzzler.
I know, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). I know, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:15). But chalking our harmful speech up to, “I can’t help it because I stumble in many ways,” JUST DOESN’T CUT IT.
I think we need to stop. We need to speak words of hope and healing and help into the lives of the people around us. Are there times when particularly egregious behavior needs to be lovingly confronted? Sure. But we all know that our wounding words are usually not that. We all know that our wounding words spring from selfishness and carelessness and a lack of loving investment in our neighbors–from a sense of superiority and smugness and self-righteousness.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of [our] mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
I have to go now; I have some nose hairs to trim. And, if you happen to be having lunch with me (or breakfast or dinner or popcorn at the movies for that matter), and you see a Houdini nose hair make an appearance; go ahead, laugh…just let me laugh with you.
© All rights reserved. Scripture quotations from the NIV, Zondervan.