Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks

That title could be misunderstood.  It could be about social status.  It could be an expression of deep dislike for someone.  If you know me, you know it’s neither of those things.

It’s a way of expressing what I think about the importance of character.

I used to think, ‘It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it’.  And when this thought first settled in my mind, it was like a profound truth.  When I looked at the people in my life who impressed me the most, what really inspired me (or made me envious) was their way with words.  In 2 categories:

1: The people who can speak their mind fearlessly yet inoffensively.  Like telling someone outright that they have body odour.   No big deal.  And the accused person takes it on board and deals with it.  (Or not.  But they still feel the lightness of touch in what was said.)

Or secondly:  The people who have wise insights or kind words that get to the heart of a matter.  Like the director of the charity I worked at in Romania, always ready with an analogy to make sense of an issue or diffuse tension.

At the stage in my life I’m thinking about, I was observing other people’s behaviour more keenly because I was coming to terms with my own shortcomings.  And thus I was stepping out on the first stage of life-apprenticeship: Willingness to learn.

Naturally, I tried to copy what these impressive sorts of people do.  I tried using breezy words to hide the irritation I felt at somebody’s body odour, in order that I might be more persuasive and they might go away and deal with it.   I spent a long time choosing those breezy words.

I shared a wise story I’d learned, at an opportune time, when I thought people were ready to hear it.

But as you can probably tell, what worked for my unknowing mentors didn’t work for me.  Which was very frustrating because I was working really hard at getting the methods right.

It’s embarrassing to think how long this approach continued before the second stage of life apprenticeship occurred to me:  Willingness to change.

What should have been apparent from the start is that these people speak naturally, out of who they are.  The first person has a direct and gently humorous way of dealing with a potentially awkward matter, because they are not the sort of person to let a minor detail become a big irritating issue to them.  They are just mentioning it because, well, better to get it out there.  And they have no desire to control the way the other person responds.   So this good natured-ness comes across.

And the wise peacemaker has insights to share because he has for a long time prioritized goodness and love, hardwork and study in his own life, and he really believes the deep truths he’s learned.  He believes them for their own sake.  For his own sake.  Not to impress someone.  Which means those truths are right there to hand if someone else needs to hear them.  Because wisdom and love are in the essence of who he is.

The thing is, the phrase, `It’s not what you say but the way that you say it,’ IS true.  But only because the way that you say it is the vehicle for who you are.  And no matter how you try to conjure it, who you are always comes across in the end.

And the great news is, Who we are, in the sense that I mean it here, can change!  I am not talking about status or role, but character.  And I am a firm believer that bad character can become good character.

The not-so-great news is that character growth involves pain.  For me the intense pain of facing my own hypocrisy (thanks to the deeply challenging yet well intentioned words of one of the people I have referred to) was a big step in the right direction.  There have been other painful realisations for me and there will be more.  But these are the things that get our attention and motivate us to turn around, to live differently.   I couldn’t take the pain without faith in a God who loves me, forgives me, doesn’t condemn me, and sees the potential in me.  I can take all manner of pain if I have hope too.

I’ve switched from worrying about methods to being concerned with growing in character.  I’m trying to be myself above all, even while I’m still a bit of a mess.  I’m trying to make myself (deep down) more like Jesus.  And I’m starting to care less about what people think and to care more about people.