The following prayer is a “Litany for the Disqualified,” written by Fran Pratt.
Gracious, Loving God:
We whose hearts desire to serve You, to minister in Your kingdom,
and to follow the loving example of leadership that Christ set forth;
We look now to You.
Many of us have been told, in various ways, by ourselves and by others
That we are disqualified from service.
Some of us have been told that we are
the wrong gender
the wrong age
the wrong race
the wrong class
not holy enough
not experienced enough
We seek now to have our minds transformed;
To have our presumptions set right;
Our slates wiped clean.
Give us courage
to walk in the calling You have placed on us,
to overcome those forces that would have us be ineffective,
to listen to Your voice above the voices that would have us disqualified.
May we take our example from the meekness of Christ, His gentleness
but also His assertiveness and steadfastness of purpose.
For he too was disdained, regarded as weak,
not enough of a warrior to be a King.
Teach us the ways of Your kingdom
the way of peace
the way of love
the way of beauty.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit.
Provide for us with the abundance that is the hallmark of Your generosity.
May we know deeply that You have qualified us in Christ Jesus,
and that, in Him, we are enough.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. (Proverbs 31:26 ESV)
My mouth has gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years.
In fact, my dad called it early on. I remember being told as a child, when I was talking back to my dad, “Christy, that mouth of yours is going to get you in a lot of trouble.” He was so right. (And, for what it’s worth, I have said those exact words to my own son on at least one occasion. And also, for what it’s worth, my dad claims not to remember ever saying that to me. But then again, his memory of me is that I was perfect in every way.)
I was sassy. I talked back. I argued. I negotiated. I gave my mom, dad and teachers a real run for their money. Talking got me in trouble in kindergarten, when I could not resist the temptation to talk with my neighbor in class. Talking got me in trouble in middle school, when I went head-to-head with several teachers, going so far as to send one teacher out of the room in tears. (By God’s grace, I had a chance to make amends with her as an adult. It was incredible how that happened.) Talking got me in trouble in high school, when I just didn’t know how to back down from an argument.
A colleague pointed out a few years back that I am an “oral processor.” We were working side-by-side and she found my “oral processing” distracting, so she needed to move to another space. I was offended at first, but I realized after I gave it some consideration that she was totally right. I talk through things. With whomever is close. Sometimes even a stranger. I’m that woman. You rarely have to guess how I’m feeling about things, because I tend to tell you in no uncertain words exactly how I am feeling.
As I grew older, I learned more about how words could make me feel powerful—and could wound. I have never had a fist fight with anyone, but I have cut people deeply with my words. When I am feeling hurt or threatened, my natural inclination is to lash out with words. My natural inclination is “never retreat,” but rather to march headlong into battle, sword raised, talking much and talking fast. There have been times when my words have served as a high-power machine gun. Lord, have mercy.
But I’ve also been deeply wounded by words. Criticism from a person whose opinion mattered too much kept me from writing songs for years. A college friend who pointed out that my profile looked like a witch, with my protruding nose and chin, left a lasting mark. Gossip about me destroyed friendships and broke trust. I could go on. The list is long.
How powerful our words are! James addressed this poignantly in his letter to first-century Christians:
If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:3-12 ESV)
“No human being can tame the tongue! It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
But not always.
My mouth has gotten me in trouble, yes—but it has also been my strongest superpower for good. I use my mouth to lead worship and preach. I use my mouth in the YouTube videos I make promoting foster care. I use my mouth to encourage friends who are going through difficult seasons. I use my mouth to express love and concern, to speak words of hope and healing over my children, to affirm my husband, and to pray.
Words can do damage, but they can also be a source of healing. A heartfelt apology can rebuild a relationship, making it stronger than before. A kind word in the face of anger can stop rage dead in its tracks—”A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1 ESV) Strong rhetoric can be the best way to effect change—just consider Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, among others. His words turned a massive ship.
One of the biggest reasons I felt led to spend this year pursuing wisdom was my desire to “tame my tongue.” To be slower to speak and better at listening. To be wiser about what I say and how much I talk with others. To do more good and less harm.
I love the Proverbs 31 woman, as I understand her. She is a strong, smart leader with a solid vocation. She is kind, generous, and fun—she can laugh at the days to come. Some women have felt oppressed by her, feeling like she is a standard to which they will never measure up. I don’t. I think she’s awesome. She’s someone I would love to call a friend. And I want to be more like her.
I especially love that “she opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” I know women like her, and they are gifts to the world. They find themselves in the midst of conflict, and rather than fan the flame or run from it, they use words to effectively smother the flame before too much damage is done. They use words to “turn the ship” from devastation to construction.
They also know when not to speak at all. Sometimes the most powerful thing a person can say is absolutely nothing.
As we focus on growing in wisdom, we would be wise to consider our speech. The application this week is to be more aware of what we say. Do we make cutting throwaway comments that might do more damage than we realize? Do we respond to frustration by listing offenses? To we blurt out expletives when someone cuts us off in traffic? Do we offer snarky comebacks or biting sarcasm? Or do we open our mouths with wisdom? Is the teaching of kindness on our tongues?