"If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well."
Every once in a while I think I may have found a verse that you can't really dig into and find out something new. For a second I thought this was one of those verses like Nehemiah 7:69, "their camels 435, and their donkeys 6,720." And after you get over laughing, even THAT verse reveals the size of herds in ancient Israel and... okay... maybe there isn't a spiritual point in it.
James 3:3 though makes an important point. The purpose of a bit in a horse's mouth is to guide, not to cause pain. The bit sits in a space between teeth so that even when the horse's mouth is shut tight it isn't hurting the horse. In training a child a wise parent will never use the words "Shut up!" even when the free-flow of verbal diarrhea makes the parent feel they may drown in the muck. What we should be doing is channeling all that learning capacity into a series of teachable moments. If the "bit" we put in our kids' mouths is a gentle one they will grow into inquisitive people who really want to engage with their environment in positive ways. If, on the other hand, we squelch their desire to learn or shut them up with TV, or worse, with food, we will soon rue the day we put the bit in their mouth for the pain it causes. I always thought I had been pretty even-handed with my 2 kids. But at a critical time in the grade-school years there were just enough times when I had my younger one, Beth, in the car when I was trying to have a serious discussion with one of the teens I was mentoring where in the moment I told her to sit quietly and read, that she felt, not the gentle bit of guidance, but the painful bit of a parent who simply wanted an immediate outcome. We've discussed it over the years and forgiveness has been offered and received, but I know the hurt was very definitely there, and it is one of the deep regrets of my life.
We all need the bit of guidance. We need to know the discipline of not being so "direct" with people that we hurt them, of not saying "anything that comes to mind". Spontaneity is great at the right time. We all need to learn when the right time is. None of us is perfect. No one is so aware and so gracious that they always say the right thing. Look at the poor guys who are vying for the presidency right now!
I may not agree with everything either of them says, but how would you like to have every word you say scrutinized and discussed and parsed and graded? After the remarkable forum at Saddleback Church, the talking heads actually gave John McCain more points for his choice of the three wisest people in his life than they gave Barak Obama because Obama's list was his grandmother, mother, and wife and McCain's list was a general, a civil rights leader, and a business CEO. Actually, now that I think of it, the two lists are the same! This may seem like a cliché, but in African-American society over the last 50 years or so, very often a grandmother needed to be a general, mom has had to be a civil rights leader, and frankly, black or white, most wives of the post-war 20th century needed to be CEO's.
But now I'm running on. Maybe I'd best put that bit back in my mouth.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.