You didn’t? My 17-year-old self thought. It came as a total surprise that my teacher, my mentor, and my confidante shared those words with me. I had put that chapter behind me as moving to college in a larger town promised a life free of criticism and hurtful small-town talk.
I knew the truth. Even if my mouth hadn’t uttered an unkind word three years prior, my thoughts were a different story. My dad was my basketball coach and a darn good one in my opinion. I was only a ninth grader when disgruntled parents began to seek to have my dad reassigned to be only a P.E. teacher, not a coach.
It was the hardest time of my life up to that point. My teammates were incredibly gracious, though. Not once did any of them say a harsh word to me. I will always be thankful for that. But I still read the letters of criticism by their parents. I overheard the remarks about my dad in the locker room. I observed my mom keep a stone face while she heard the whispers in the bleachers. I watched Dad battle depression as he fought to continue as coach because he knew I wanted to stay and play basketball for him at the school I loved.
I vented my heartache to my Acteen group at church. My church was in a different town so those in my youth group didn’t attend school with me. They were a safe place, a refuge. But in my all venting, tears, and prayer requests, I hadn’t said a hateful word?
Reflecting back on that time, I can come to only one conclusion. Hateful words didn’t pass my lips because hateful words didn’t pass my parents’ lips. Sure, there was hurt. There were many, “I don’t understand” comments. But not once do I ever recall either of them saying one bad thing about anyone.
Twenty years later, we live in a day when everyone is not only entitled to an opinion, but we are entitled to express it. Because we feel justified, we don’t understand the full repercussions of an unbridled tongue.
Our children hear. As the adage says, what our children learn is more caught than taught.
Isn’t that true?
When they hear us questioning our child’s teacher, they catch it.
When they observe us criticizing Sunday’s sermon, they catch it.
When they see us gossiping with our friends, they catch it.
Sure, there is a time and place to bring issues to the table, even to those in authority. My dad’s situation was resolved in court, where he was returned to his coaching position one day before our first game of my tenth grade year. (And in my junior year we earned a berth in the state tournament.)
He fought for what he believed was right, but he did it without spewing hate or returning criticism for criticism.
We as parents must be cautious with our words when little ears are listening, even when those “little” ears are 14 years old like I was. Are we going to model criticism and complaining? Or are we going to model the beautiful exercise of grace?
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21