We all know children imitate what they see. From very early days, my daughter would imitate me talking on the phone. Because her daddy deployed when she was three months old, I spent a lot of time on the phone as a new mom with her husband in a war zone. She imitated me by pacing with the phone in her hand, gesturing while she talked, even laughing periodically as if the other person in her imaginary conversation had just made a joke. I was amazed at the depth of the details she picked up about talking on the phone from watching me, before she could even speak.
It was hilarious when we were in the car and someone cut us off, and from the backseat I heard, “Mom, you just drive. I’ll yell ‘DUDE!'” At that moment I was very glad my road rage vocabulary consists primarily of one word with many intonations.
It is not always hilarious when she imitates my less than stellar moments or heaven forbid repeats things that were not meant for little ears or were private moments about private parts. Yes, I did have that Kindergarten Cop moment. At speech therapy, she was explaining very matter-of-factly the difference between Mrs. Potato Head and Mr. Potato Head. Yes, hand slap to forehead after slow motion “NOooOOOoooo” from behind the glass as I listened over the monitor to her speech teacher ask her how she could tell the difference between the potatoes. So much for my dignity. At least her speech therapist had a sense of humor.
I wrote previously about being careful about how we talk to our children, that the words we use will color their views of themselves and the world, that we need to guard our mouths, especially when we’re angry. I wrote that we need to protect our most important audience from the words we use towards them, but the more I studied what the Bible has to say about how we should talk, the more I realized that how I talk to my daughter is really important, but how I talk in front of her and others may be even more important.
Ecclesiastes 10:20 “Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter.”
My little “bird” doesn’t miss much, doesn’t forget anything, and repeats it all. The Bible says, as Christians, we are the representatives of God. My daughter imitates my words and tone, so how I speak in front of her will be how she demonstrates our family’s faith to the world. If my words are loving and kind, even toward people who are not, she will learn to love with God’s love, to empathize with a person’s struggle with sin rather than to judge, to invite people to accept God’s grace.
2 Corinthians 5:20 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
If God is making His appeal to the world through us, our witness has to be something we do consciously all the time. One of the ways people will know us is by how we talk.
Have you ever seen someone with an Ichthys fish bumper sticker and then watched them cut-off someone in traffic and vulgarly let the other driver know “You’re #1!” or some other insanely improper behavior and thought, “What a hypocrite.”
I have. In fact, I sometimes am not the most focused driver in the world and am afraid to represent Christ with my driving. My husband teases that my driving is more apt to help people meet God, than invite them to do so. All joking aside, if I’m going to have a bumper sticker, cross necklace, or church t-shirt, I’m going to take extra special care of my witness in those moments. But also, in every situation I could possibly face, I’m someone’s witness, even if just my husband or daughter. I want to guard that witness fiercely. I can’t protect my family from all the garbage the world spews at them, but I can make sure they see Christ’s alternative in me.
Sometimes it is hard to know what exactly our witness should be, what the rules are.
Romans 14:21 “It is good not to . . . do anything that causes your brother to stumble.”
Our threshold for Godly choices isn’t necessarily even what is the “law” of God’s word. Our threshold is literally what might cause another Christian to stumble. If my words are not as pure as possible, I could be leading someone into sin or pushing them away from Christ. I view my witness in public situations as kind of a Hippocratic oath – first, do no harm, then if I can, draw them into wanting to know Jesus.
Titus 3:2 “To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”
No one looks at someone arguing his/her point in a quarrelsome, discourteous manner and thinks, I want to act like that, or I should totally change my point of view now. It looks ugly and hostile. Jesus very rarely even got loud with people. He just gently presented the truth in perfect love. People either followed or they didn’t.
Spend five minutes on Facebook. You will know that the world does not follow Titus 3:2, and that a lot of people who would claim to be Christians do not act as if they know Him. “Speak evil of no one” is a pretty high threshold, especially when it comes to politics, but if we are known by our fruit, then I want to make sure people see the fruit of my life and are pointed to God.
As the mother of a preschooler, teaching my daughter to use her words and her kind voice with friends or playmates is an exercise in modeling, giving her the appropriate dialogue to express her needs and feelings until she can find them herself. “I am frustrated you won’t share that toy. Please, may I have a turn.” Then, “OK, I will find something else to play with, but I would like a turn soon.” Perfect courtesy is our side of the equation. We cannot control anyone else. We live and demonstrate gentle kindness to demonstrate Christ in every aspect of our lives.
Ephesians 5:1 ESV “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
I’ve realized that I teach my children so much more through what they see me do than what they hear me lecture. If I want them to learn to be Christ-like, I have to be Christ-like.
1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
I am a flesh and blood person who is still struggling with my old nature. I can stop most foul language from coming out of my mouth, but sometimes the first words to come to mind betray the condition of my heart. I also am actively working on being gentle in all aspects of my speech and attitude.
Proverbs 15:4 ESV “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”
I think about this verse in regards to my discipline of my children. Can just being gentle in my attitude towards them, without changing the consequences, actually affect change in their hearts? I hope so. I want them to see I love them without loving their sin.
Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
I want people to notice I don’t fit in. I no longer belong to this world. I’m chosen; I’m being transformed. I especially want my children to notice the transformation the Holy Spirit is working in me. The best way I can think of is the way I talk, letting God tame my tongue. The words I use, the tone I use, or whether I use any at all will speak volumes to my children.
So this is my prayer today . . .