One of the greatest gifts that you can give the world is well within everyone’s reach, but few people choose to exercise this gift.
It is the gift that fathers and mothers of young children dream of all day long.
It is a gift that is the opposite of effort, yet it is so difficult to accomplish.
It is a gift of peace on a stormy day, but you can provide it to a friend at any time.
It is a holy gift right from the hand of God, and you are able to wield it any second.
It is a gift at which an older gentleman, Graham, excelled.
You have to understand that Graham was a quiet man. When he shook hands while exiting church, he usually just the pastor a huge smile rather than saying, “Good morning,” or “Good sermon.” If you needed someone to be the master of ceremonies at a fundraising event, you would not ask Graham, but he would be there to help non-the-less.
Graham excelled at the gift of not talking; he had the holy gift of silence. Do you understand why I said that mothers and father dream of this gift?
Back to Graham, if you needed someone to help carry something heavy, Graham would be there. If you needed someone to direct traffic at an accident, Graham would be the one to choose. If you needed anything really, Graham was the sort of guy who would just show up and help however he could. He was a silent partner…and I mean that literally…whenever you could use someone to serve he would be there silently.
Just so you understand correctly, Graham could talk. It is just that he reserve his talking for the essentials.
He was often asked about his silence, and he would simply reply with the words of Mark Twain, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
But, Graham was just being modest. He was no fool. Though he opened his mouth rarely, when he did…when he did decide to contribute an idea to the conversation…it was smart for the group to stop and listen because the words were usually very well thought out and wise. He never spoke the first thing that came into his head. It was always around the 17th revised version of what he originally thought.
Graham had the gift of keeping his mouth shut. Graham had the holy gift of silence, and it truly was a gift to those around.
When pastors do funerals, one of the fun things…if there is a fun thing about doing a funeral…is taking the time to think about a person’s life, and see what scripture best describes the person. If I were the pastor at Graham’s funeral, I would have chosen this text from James…at least a little bit of it.
Graham’s entire life was living out the wisdom of this bit of James that is primarily concerned about protecting people created in God’s image from the abusive language of others.
James’ counsel to the faithful is to not seek to be a whole room full of teachers. Graham was safe here because he, in no way, looked at a room full of people and said to himself, “I have a lot of smart stuff that these people should know about!”
Teachers, the apostle James points out, are held to a higher standard than everyone else because their small tongues can persuade the whole room to move one way or the other. Like a ship in the ocean, the smallest movement of the small rudder below can change the direction of the ship, even if it is against the strong wind.
That is how powerful the tongue can be in the mouth of a respected teacher. If a respected teacher gives praise to a student, the class will also see that student as someone worthy of praise. However, if the respected teacher dislikes someone in the class, their tongue can shift the entire class, with just a couple of words, to commit acts of hate against that student.
That reminds me of a Sunday School teacher who would deal with misbehavior in the class by writing a list on the chalk board with the header, “Kids going to hell.”
Students of that class remember quite vividly Chuck always being on the top of that board. Chuck was the kid in class who ate the crayons rather than drawing with them…you all knew a Chuck.
Well, just imagine how his name constantly being on the top of the list shaped not only how the class’s thought about him, but also his perception of himself. I have no idea what happened to Chuck as he grew up, but murderous psychopath would not be outside the realm of possibility in my mind.
Our tongues can be powerful things. James says that they can be like a minuscule ember that sets the entire forest ablaze. If I stopped and asked you to name someone who frequently starts the forest ablaze with a slight movement of the tongue, my guess is that someone in particular comes to mind immediately. Am I right?
James has little good to say about the tongue. He says that it “stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
How many children of God died in the past century from racist lynching because of words of hatred spread by misguided tongues that were set ablaze?
But, we do not even need to go back that far. How many teens will die of suicide today because of the evil words spread about them on social media? Actually, I can answer that question, because we keep statics on this sort of stuff. 3,041attempts at suicide by teens on average will happen across the nation today. 3,041.
The saying goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words never hurt me.”
I must say that I have been hit by lots of sticks playing swords with my brothers in the woods through the summer and I have fallen on lots of rocks over the course of my life, but none of those incidents had lasting effects.
Words are quite different. They do hurt. Harsh words are what linger in the mind still to this day. The saying is wrong. Words can cause a fire that burns underneath for years and years like the unstoppable, smoldering mine fire of Centralia, Pennsylvania. They burn underneath and shape who we are and what we do for years to come.
That brings me back to Graham and what a gift he was.
Did you know that Graham was one of the teen’s favorite people in church? It was not because he was outgoing and energetic; the teens had a youth director who was all of those things. It was not because he won them over by giving gifts or money or anything of that sort. It was not because of any of those things. Graham was the teen’s favorite person by far because he was simply always there at their events. Because he was always there, and because he did not talk much, that meant that he was always able to listen.
You know that suicide statistic? That statistic might be higher if it were not for the Grahams of the world who would sit at the picnic bench with the teens and just listen.
He listened to the bullied, male Jr. High student who had an amazing talent of dance.
He listened to the High School girl who was struggling to break things off with a terrible boyfriend, but secretly feared that breaking things off with him would mean that she would be alone. She was not alone. Graham listened.
Graham used the gift that all of us have the ability to use, but most choose not. Graham was excellent at using the holy gift of silence.
When he used his words, he tried as best he could to make sure that his words would praise the holiness of God. That does not mean that he was always going around shouting “Alleluia!” But, it does mean that he tried to make sure that his words sounded a lot like Jesus’ words of love, grace, service, and forgiveness. Sometimes, the best way to make your words sound that way is to allow the words to remain silent.