By Christy Heitger at: www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/ (stories of faithful living for youth)
My stomach dropped when I saw Phil walking toward me in the cafeteria.
“Please tell me he’s not coming to talk to me,” I whispered to my friends Lena and Alyssa.
“No such luck,” Lena replied. “In fact, he looks like he’s on a mission.”
That’s what worried me. The winter formal was three weeks away and rumor had it that Phil wanted to ask me out. With thick black glasses, hyperactive sweat glands, a bad case of chin acne, and the tendency to use the word “cool” a few hundred times a day, Phil wasn’t exactly the man of my dreams.
“Hi, Christy,” he said, his voice cracking as he uttered the first syllable of my name.
“Hey,” I mumbled.
“Uhhh, I was just wondering if you’d like to go to the winter dance with me. I think it would be cool,” Phil said as beads of sweat formed at his temples.
My friends couldn’t stop giggling.
“So, what do you say, Christy?” Alyssa said with a smirk. “Does Philly here need to go buy you a cool corsage?”
It’s true that I didn’t have a date yet, and I did want to attend the dance, but if I went with Phil my friends would tease me to no end.
“Not interested,” I said flatly as I looked at Phil’s glistening forehead and dotted, bumpy red chin. “I’d rather go alone than be seen with you.”
The moment the words fell from my lips, I could feel how harsh they were. “Oh-oh-OK. Cool,” Phil said softly. “Well, I guess I’ll see ya around.”
With his head down and shoulders slumped, Phil slouched away to a table on the opposite end of the cafeteria.
I watched him sitting alone, staring out into space. Here was a guy who had probably spent the morning working up the nerve to ask me out, and with just a few words, I’d crushed his spirit.
I knew God wanted me to treat others with compassion and kindness. But instead, what had I done? I’d blurted out something hurtful.
I looked across the cafeteria. Even from a distance, I could see a sadness in Phil’s eyes.
I felt absolutely horrible, knowing that I was the cause of that sadness.
I knew exactly what I had to do, so I took a deep breath and asked God for the courage to go up to Phil and apologize. As I approached Phil’s table, my stomach knotted up.
What if I say something stupid and make a fool out of myself? I worried. Or what if the words come out wrong and I end up making things worse?
When I reached Phil’s table, all I could utter was a soft, “Hey.”
“Hey,” he echoed just as quietly.
I fidgeted with the shiny zipper hanging from my backpack as I tried to find the right words—any words. My mouth was dry and my palms were sweaty. I couldn’t help thinking that this was probably how Phil felt when he approached me.
The awkward silence was excruciating. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer.
“I was rude to you,” I blurted out. “So rude. And for no good reason. I’m sorry.”
I glanced up at Phil, but he was quiet. Clearly, he wasn’t in much of a talking mood. He kind of nodded, and I grabbed my backpack and went back to my friends.
My actions that day reminded me just how powerful my words are. They can either build people up or tear them down. As Proverbs 18:21 says, they can bring life or death—and the choice is mine. I made the wrong choice that day. I let my friends influence me way too much. I was afraid of being teased, so I lashed out at Phil. But there’s really no excuse for the way I acted. That afternoon, I promised myself and God that I’d always do my best to use my words in a positive way.
As for Phil, it’s funny the way life works out sometimes. A few months after I’d said those mean things, Phil became my lab partner in science class. To my surprise, it was an awesome partnership. Luckily, he wasn’t the kind of guy to hold a grudge. He treated me with a great deal of respect—just as I should have given him right from the start. In the end, our friendship turned out to be pretty … cool.
Proverbs 18:21a — The tongue has the power of life and death…
Proverbs 21:14 — The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?
James 3:3-10 — When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
Proverbs 15:1-4 — A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
Ephesians 4:29 — Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Take from me, O God, all pride and vanity, all boasting and self-assertiveness, and give us the true courage that shows itself by gentleness; the true wisdom that shows itself by simplicity; and the true power that shows itself by modesty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.