The small fire that sets the forest aflame

When you think of weather headlines so far this summer, the most prominent in your mind might be wild fires. Colorado’s wild fires grabbed headlines in June when they forced massive evacuations. NOAA’s June wildfire summary says the Colorado fire was the most destructive in that state’s history.

My husband and I were driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway this weekend and noticed a small fire:

Smoke in the distance (top right)

Because North Carolina has had plenty of rain this summer, we didn’t worry about this particular fire spreading and getting out of control. But seeing the fire did make me think of the work I’ve been doing on one of my book’s chapters.

James 3 talks about the fire our tongues can start:

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of
great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!
And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set
among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets
on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. … But no one
can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who
have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come
both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be
this way. – James 3:5-6, 8-10

Can any of you relate? Ever had words fly out of your mouth that you immediately wished to take back? Ever kill a friendship with your words? Or had one killed by the words of another? I have.

The words that escape our mouths can destroy and tear down and, according to James, set “on fire the course of our life.” That’s really frightening stuff, in many ways more truly frightening than an actual fire burning through a forest.

I’ll be honest with you. This is not an easy chapter for me to write. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of words that set fire to relationships and burned them down. And I squirm to think about setting down these memories on the pages of my book.

Burning down a friendship
When I was in graduate school, a friend of mine agreed to participate in one of my projects where I needed “test subjects” who would try out an unfamiliar piece of software. She called me a few days before the test to complain about how busy she was with work, church and her other activities. I could tell she wanted me to let her off the hook with the test, but she never came right out and asked. I had grown weary of hearing her complain nonstop about how busy she was, a common refrain in her conversations with me over a period of too many months to count. When she paused for a breath, I said, “Well, whose fault is it that you’re so busy?” And with those nine words out of my mouth, our friendship was dead.

It was a relationship that likely would have flickered out as our lives continued to diverge, but it didn’t have to end as painfully and abruptly as it did. It didn’t need to end in anger and hurt and flames.

I despair when I read James’ words: “But no one can tame the tongue” (v. 8). I despair because I have lived my struggle to control my tongue over and over.

Just this past weekend, my tongue set fire to an otherwise lovely, restful weekend with my husband. I was baking pumpkin bread for a neighborhood dessert party (baking is not one of my strong suits), and when I went to take the pan out of the oven, the whole thing slipped out of my hands and fell face down onto the floor … with a resounding splat and a corresponding nosedive in my language.

My husband stayed quietly upstairs. Even the dog could tell from my reaction that right then was not the time to come around the corner and offer her clean-up services. It took several hours before all of those terrible emotions began to unjumble themselves and make way for a calm conversation with my husband.

If such a silly thing like a broken cake all over the floor can unhinge me for several hours, then I know without a doubt that there are words capable of setting the entire course of a life on fire. And I don’t want that life to be mine or those around me.

So what can I do? What can you do when you feel those enflamed words at the the edge of your tongue?

Toward the end of James 3, we get a hint, a glimmer of hope: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Wisdom from above, my friends. Wisdom from above.

James tells us that wisdom from above is peaceable. God gives us the wisdom that is able to bring peace, not just within ourselves but with each other. I want to be one of those people James is describing, one of those who make peace.

I clearly need some help getting that wisdom, and that’s why I’m going to get my hands on a copy of Lysa TerKeurst‘s new book Unglued. In it, she talks about how to handle our raw emotions that can end up in words that set the forest on fire. In her book, she shares ways we can find that peaceable wisdom from above while we maintain the important relationships in our lives.

I know that in Unglued, as with all of TerKeurst’s books I’ve read, I’ll find much to laugh about and cry about. She’ll challenge me to uncover the hard parts inside of me that try to come out in fiery words and learn how to give those areas over to God. And I hope her book will take me down the path toward peace and calm.

Want to join me on the journey? I’d love to hear if you have read Unglued or plan to. If you don’t have the book yet, TerKeurst’s blog post from yesterday offers several ways to win the book. Plus, you can visit the book’s site to read sample chapters and sign up for three free (yes, free!) Unglued webcasts. The first one airs tomorrow night at 8 pm. So hurry!

Do you have a forest fire story you’d like to share?
I know you’ll be busy signing up for the Unglued webcasts and reading the free chapters and other resources, but before you go, do you have forest fire stories of your own you’d be willing to share here?

Whether your story has a happy ending or you’re still fighting to control the blaze, your words here may help another fire survivor begin to heal, to feel less alone and to seek out the peace we can all gain from the wisdom that comes from above. You may share your story in the comments below, or if you want to keep it just between the two of us, you may email it directly to me. I look forward to hearing from you!

One thought on “The small fire that sets the forest aflame

  1. Pingback: Before and after | The Flourishing Tree

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