I look around the table and see a circle of bowed heads and blank faces. The whole room is still and one chair is empty, tilted and leaning crazily against the wall where an angry child shoved it on the way to their room. I can feel the unspoken censure from my family.
I bite back tears. I’ve turned my words on my child, wanting peace in our house so desperately that I’ve slashed away thoughtlessly, unleashing all my pent up frustrations and disappointment. Everything is quiet now, but it is not peace that fills the room. The rest of the family begins to stand up and carefully clear the table, one by one walking away until I am alone, sitting silent with the weight of my own words.
This is my true story: a cycle of enduring patiently and holding my tongue followed by an ugly, desperate eruption. In the name of peace I swallowed down words and feelings until I was stuffed with them. And then, again in the name of peace, I begged and pleaded and talked and lectured and eventually lost control of all the ugly, hurt things that had been pushed down for so long. The Prince of Peace had – and still has - much to teach me.
Here again, Colossians 3 shone its light on the path. (Can you see how gently the Lord was leading me? How kindly He paved the way for me to understand His new rule of peace?)
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.
You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
I must know that as a Christ-follower, I am no longer a citizen of the old kingdom. I am dead to that old, familiar life. Once I surrendered to the rule of Peace, I buried the old woman who raged and slashed and wounded with her tongue. No matter how justified, provoked, pressed, beaten down I am - anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language cannot be a part of my vocabulary. Is it understandable? Yes. Is it forgiven? Yes, always. But I cannot speak the language of the snake and the language of the Prince of Peace at the same time. Whose rule do I choose?
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
The language of the Peaceable Kingdom is Spirit-words, language that testifies to the character and truth of our Lord. It is always clothed in compassion, because God Himself is compassionate. It is always forgiving, because God Himself is forgiving. It is always patient, because God Himself is patient.
To be a citizen of His Kingdom, I must learn to speak God’s language.
This is no small revelation, it is a difficult and strenuous truth to learn. I have always been tripped up by the outrageousness of our situation, thinking that surely God can’t blame me for losing my temper here, for being “honest” (meaning: unkind) there. What I didn’t understand was that it is not a matter of whether the Lord will forgive an outburst – He will - but rather, every time I give in to rage and malice or hurt I am feeding the snake. But by speaking Christ’s language – in other words, His truth - I am planting and watering and cultivating the seeds of the new Kingdom that will destroy the snake. Every time I speak compassion to the face of rebellion, compassion grows. Every time I speak gentleness to the face of rage, gentleness grows. But if I return hateful words for hateful words, the snake laughs and flexes his new strength.
What does this look like in a home? Sometimes, it looks and sounds a little strange. We won't always be responding to a person's words, but responding to the Spirit instead. When my child says "I hate God. I'll never serve Him." I can recognize the hiss of that old snake rejection, and speak acceptance in return: "Perhaps, but God loves you and will always be waiting for you." There have been times, in the middle of an uncontrolled rage, when I don't speak to the child at all, I just speak truth out loud, even though it would seem crazy to anyone looking in: "Jesus is Lord in this house." "Peace reigns here." "God's grace is sufficient for this moment." Life-words that stand on death's neck.
As we change the language of our households a beautiful thing happens. First, we find that we don’t have to try to make peace anymore. We don’t have to keep stuffing things down and holding back. We are building truth in our hearts by speaking truth, and out of hearts full of truth our mouths are speaking. We are giving birth to the Kingdom with God-words. Once we spoke death and anger in our homes and the snake laughed and hissed and spun his wickedness, but now we are speaking life and hope and truth and the Spirit of God weaves His peace.
And yet, it is not that simple, is it? How do we even know what is truth? And how do we summon the right words in the midst of chaos, woundedness and exhaustion? How do we even know what words to speak? Colossians is going to help us again:
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
We know God through His written Word. We know Him through prayer and listening to His Spirit. Here Paul tells us some specific ways to get the message of Christ down in our bones: psalms, hymns, songs from the Spirit, singing with gratitude in your heart.
Those of us who are fighting the snake, who find ourselves helplessly weak and slavishly speaking his terrible lies in our homes, must be especially attentive here. We must FILL ourselves with true words if we want them to come out of our mouths in the midst of trials. We simply cannot afford to let the snake’s language into our minds, however he comes in. We must learn to recognize his ways and reject them. I am not going to tell you to stop watching TV or quit listening to that music or quit calling that one friend or quit reading that one parenting expert. I am going to tell you to drench yourself in the Word of God so that you are so full of Him you won’t have room for the snake’s language any more. Fill your mind with psalms; sing to the Lord every hymn and worship song you know; let your spirit sing new songs of gratitude and praise to Him; commit the Word to memory; fill up, fill up, fill up on Him. You cannot do it enough.
Be purposeful and intentional about getting the message of Christ inside you, but please don’t let old religion-baggage get in the way here. If memorizing Scripture makes you have nightmares about the nuns in grade school, don’t start a memory program right now. Perhaps you could find one passage to read daily for a month and just let it sink in slowly and deeply. If the old hymns make your collar feel tight and bring out that old rebellion, find some modern worship music that feeds your soul. If new worship music scandalizes you, search out deeper, time-tested music. But don’t get tripped up on your way to being filled. Let God bless you and write His words on your heart in whatever way He can.
Learn to speak God's language and you will find that peace not only stays, but grows.
After I sat alone at the table for awhile that night, I went to my room and had a good cry. This living can be tough and we are going to flail around and falter some days no matter how we try. After I felt a little better I stood up and went to find my family. I had some Spirit-words to say to them and they went like this:
"I'm sorry. Will you please forgive me?"
None of us will ever tame our tongues completely. They are restless and full of poison and that old snake language is deep down in us. But humility and forgiveness are powerful healers if we will use them.
One by one my family wrapped arms around me and spoke their own healing words of love and acceptance. Later, I walked back into the dining room, pulled the tilting chair away from the wall, set it down on all four legs and straightened the tablecloth. Once more, peace had set things right and we would begin again. Then softly to myself, I began to sing.
Next week: Order and Routine: Making Straight Paths for Peace
Part one: Which Ruler Will You Choose?
Introduction: Keeping Peace