The sermon yesterday was a reminder to take the opportunities presented to us each day to nurture our relationships; it was a call for open communication and regular maintenance checks. It was a bit off-topic, but my mind flew to a time when I was ten and God shut my lips. The shutting of my mouth was a profound and incredible gift. Here’s what happened:
One afternoon in March of 1968, Missy (let’s call her that) and I had climbed a crabapple tree in her backyard and were exercising our imaginations and indulging in the sweet secret-telling that bonds silly, young girls. Far sooner than we expected, Missy’s mom called to us to come; it was time for me to go home. We were both disappointed, but Missy was verbally obstinate: “No! We’re not finished!” In a quiet, passive tone, Missy’s mom repeated her request. Missy became more belligerent, more mouthy. The tug-of-war was a jarring new experience for me. Walking to the car, I was shocked to my core when Missy screamed “I hate you!” to her mom. To this day I can see her pigtails, her wrinkled eyebrows, her curled lips, her passion in profile as she yelled. Subconsciously, I must have noted that there was no immediate consequence for her talk.
For whatever reason, I kept this incident a secret and didn’t discuss it with any member of my family. But I relived it; I pondered; I simmered; I wondered; most of all I tried to make sense of it. Eventually I began to flirt with the idea of talking back to my mom. I was no Elsie Dinsmore, but there were clear ideas in our family, properly taught and administered, on what were fitting words and fitting tones in which to speak to one’s parent. My mom brooked no disrespect from any of her children.
At first I just played with the words in my mind. In the same way that women can lust after imaginary men, I toyed with a theoretical situation where I said those words. I wasn’t angry; I was just curious. But, there were certainly times when I wanted my own way and the thought of getting it was appealing.
I rolled and swished those words around my mouth like an experienced wine-taster. But the process itself was unpleasant and stomach-achey. It was just too weird. I had sense enough to realize that those words were completely dissonant with my relationship with my mom. After a week or so I made a conscious decision not to go there, breathed a sigh of relief, and carried on with my childhood.
Within a month, my mom died unexpectedly. Shortly afterwards it hit me clean in the face what I had been spared. This drama still resided strictly inside my head, but I knew – oh! I knew! – how gracious God was to shut my mouth. For days on end I prayed before I slept, repeatedly thanking God that I had never spoken those words to the one person I loved more than any other.
keep watch over the door of my lips.