Do I want to be kind, or to be me?

I’ve just read the glowing recommendation an actor friend has given to my autobiographical novel. Because he’s a friend I knew he would be kind, and although I respect what he says, I don’t expect others to agree with him.

The publishers sent me his ‘review’ so that I could OK it as publicity for the book, but normally I make it a firm firm rule never to read reviews, ever since my first stage play when the reviewer of a national paper could see no further than a) I was a woman, and b) I was living in a council house in Derby and c) my director was a political activist. That stoked all the prejudice of this dyed-in-the-wool conservative and so he wrote about Gannon the radical-leftie-harridan and her socialist polemic. Actually the play is about a woman killing her mother out of a sense of tortured pity and it’s full of sorrow and laughter. Nothing to do with politics at all. And as for me…. I’m sometimes to the right of Genghis Khan and other times I veer to the extreme left just for the hell of it (and to annoy people). I met this reviewer a few weeks later, at another play, and at curtain up he was already drunk and bewildered, dropping his coat, spilling his drink, stumbling into an aisle seat. In the interval he was asleep. That was it. Never read a review again.

If you’re a writer you have to decide which arrows, if any, will be allowed to pierce your skin. You learn it pretty quickly and professionally I have the skin of a very thick skinned rhinoceros. I don’t mind one bit if you intensely dislike my work, but as a human being, outside the profession, we all have more tender sensibilities.

The words we speak to each other are sometimes like reviews, but they’re personal and so they can hurt and mark us for years, maybe for a whole lifetime. My stepmother would whisper to me, when I was a child and in her care, so that no one else could hear, that I was loathsome. That has stayed with me. I think it will always be with me. I walk into a room … loathsome. I see someone I know… loathsome. I knock on a friend’s door… loathsome. Maybe that’s why I write, because when I write I am unseen.

The harm we wreak with our tongues is terrible. My step-mother isn’t unique and I’m not innocent either; I’ve hurt people with my cruel tongue, both spoken and in the written word. I’m only now beginning to recognise my own schadenfreude and self-justification (or is it self-righteousness? It’s ‘self-something’ anyway). I too often use words to point and poke and prod.

My evening reading is the book of James. I’ve been reading James for about two months now – I ‘finished’ it 6 weeks ago but somehow I can’t move on. I know that God has something to tell me, to hold me there for so long. So, what is he telling me? What do I need to absorb and understand and then bloomin’ well do? I think I have it: This is the Passion Translation but very close to the NIV.

We all fail in many areas, but especially with our words. Yet if we’re able to bridle the words we say we are powerful enough to control ourselves in every way, and that means our character is mature and fully developed. Horses have bits and bridles in their mouths so that we can control and guide their large body.  And the same with mighty ships, though they are massive and driven by fierce winds, yet they are steered by a tiny rudder at the direction of the person at the helm.

And so the tongue is a small part of the body yet it carries great power! Just think of how a small flame can set a huge forest ablaze. And the tongue is a fire! It can be compared to the sum total of wickedness and is the most dangerous part of our human body. It corrupts the entire body and is a hellish flame! It releases a fire that can burn throughout the course of human existence.

I get the message. I’m sorry for the words that tumble out and hurt others. And I’m sorry for the thoughts that create those words. I’m really sick of my deadliest weapon. I want to decommission it. I want to stop using words to justify me and condemn others. But we are a selfish, self-centred lot, and it’s quite a struggle to let go of all those self serving impulses, or it is for me. I love being a bit sharp, a bit naughty, a bit acerbic, a bit clear-sighted, cynical, irreverent. I cut through humbug, ignore mealy-mouthed platitudes, have little patience with either small talk or specious arguments, gleefully recognise the games we all play… and that might be all very clever-clever but it’s not good. It isn’t. It’s pretty awful. While I’m doing all that, I’m missing out on the opportunity to love.

Cop an eyeful of this, from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 : Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I know why God has kept me in the book of James, and that’s why I’m asking something special of him today: Will he please slow me down, shine a light on what I say before I say it, hold me in check, help me to see others with his eyes, love with his heart.

Am I wearing a hair shirt and sprinkling my head with ashes? No way, José. No blinkin’ way! I know that I am forgiven, and that God will help me, in spite of my me-ness! Not because I’ve earned his forgiveness and help but because he loves each and every one of us. Our fabulous, fabulous God.

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