James 3:2: “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”
I am a dad to three amazing yet different kids. Alexis is my oldest. She is a combo of my personality and my wife’s. Gabriel is my middle child and only son. He has my wife’s compassion and love for people. Then finally there is Alanna. She is me in a woman’s body.
Because my son and I are so different, we have had some rough patches in our relationship, especially during the teenage years. He is hyperactive and I am not. He is very imaginative while I am logical. He isn’t into sports all that much while sports are a huge part of my life and ministry.
One afternoon, the kids and I were cleaning out our storage sheds. I had given each kid an assigned duty. That day Gabe was supposed to wipe down the plastic boxes with a wet rag to get the dust off of them. For a little while, things were working well. Then all of a sudden Gabe got distracted, as he tends to do easily, and what was once a well-oiled machine crumbled into an inefficient mess.
My daughters took it upon themselves to turn into Gabe’s mom and let him know he needed to get back to work. Gabe took it upon himself to defend his actions. Chaos ensued. I sent Gabe into the house to get something to drink, and then he was supposed to come back out and help. I hoped by separating them for a minute or two that things could revert to the way they were. When a minute or two turned into 30 minutes, that’s when things went south for me.
I walked into the house to find Gabe laying on his floor in his room playing with his legos. I was hot. I was tired. I was frustrated. All of those things combined led me to lose my temper and layout a verbal assault on my son. As soon as I was done, I looked into his eyes and saw something I had never seen before. I crushed my son. He simply put his head down and went back into his room, closing his door. At that moment I didn’t think much of it. Being a task-driven person, I simply went back outside and finished the job. It wasn’t until the next morning when I sat at our dining room table to have my quiet time that I was convicted about my words and how I used them the day before.
James 3 is known as the chapter on speech. Our words matter. Words are powerful. They can build up, or they can tear down. They can encourage, or they can discourage. I grew up playing sports and competing in almost everything I did. I took harsh words different than my son who doesn’t care to compete and isn’t motivated by someone yelling at him.
In James 3:4-6 it says, “Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”
In short, our words are powerful. The smallest phrase can turn someone’s life in one direction or another. That day I turned my son’s life in a direction I would have never imagined.
Later that morning when he woke up we sat together on the couch. He cried. I cried. Most importantly, I had to look my son in the eyes and use my powerful words differently. I had to ask him for forgiveness. Like the compassionate Christ-like person he is, he forgave me, hugged me, and told me he still loved me.
Dads, let’s choose our words and tone that we deliver to our children wisely. Know your kids’ personalities so that you know how to speak and what to speak to them so that you don’t have to see what I saw in Gabe’s eyes that day. If you do find yourself in a situation like mine where your words have destroyed your child, be a man and look them in the eyes and ask them for forgiveness. When you do so, you’re helping them see a reflection of the Gospel in your life.
About the author: Corey lives in the New Orleans metro area with his wife Lessie, three kids Alexis, Gabe, and Alanna, and their three dogs. Corey has served as the Metro Director for BCM Christian Community, a campus-based collegiate ministry, and as the Athletics Chaplain for Tulane University for the last 11 years.