The Trouble with Anonymity
Anonymity

Anonymity can bring pleasant surprises.

Someone ahead of you pays your bill in the drive-thru.

  Or you receive a card or gift in the mail from an anonymous friend.

 But anonymity can create problems, too. How many times have you been the victim of anonymity?

  Robo-calls trying to sell you something.

  Emails trying to scam you.

Annoying at best, harmful at worst.

And how many times have you victimized someone else under the cover of anonymity?

You haven’t?

Maybe you have and just don’t realize it.

Ever been on Facebook or other social media and said something you would never say face-to-face to your neighbor or a family member at Thanksgiving?

There’s something about typing and posting a comment that makes us forget the actual people who will read what we write. Seeing the words appear on our computer screen makes us feel good as we vent and rail against the apparent loss of common sense exhibited by “the other side,” regardless of which “side” we’re on.

Do we really think we’ll persuade anyone to agree with us if we resort to the kind of language we would never think to use face-to-face?

  • Obscenities tossed around by articulate, educated people, Christian or not.
  • Name-calling by professing Christians.
  • Words that roll off our tongues onto our keyboards, without thought of how they will be received.
  • Intelligent debate discarded in favor of personal attacks.
  • Disagreements that no longer even attempt to be civil.
  • Friends “unfriended” because we no longer tolerate hearing an opinion different from our own.

The antidote? Here are a few timely reminders:

  • Psalm 19:14 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
  • Proverbs 10:19 “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
  • Proverbs 12:18 “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
  • Proverbs 13:3 “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.”
  • Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
  • Proverbs 16:24 “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
  • Proverbs 18:21: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”
  • Proverbs 21:23 “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”
  • Matthew 12:36 “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak…”
  • Matthew 12:37 “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
  • Matthew 15:18 “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart…”
  • Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
  • Colossians 4:6  “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt…”
  • James 1:26 “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

What would happen if we applied these verses to our lives and to our relationships?

Let’s try it and find out!


The Weight of Our Words

When Hurricane Irma blew through south Florida last September, we were fortunate not to sustain damage to our home. But the natural environment did not fare as well. Trees toppled all around us. Hurricane force winds snapped off branches and uprooted trees. Root balls sometimes 6 feet across lay upended on top of the ground instead of underneath it.

Many trees died. Some are still hanging on, shadows of their former, vibrant selves. Still others, with human assistance, have been replanted, pruned, and nurtured, and are now thriving.

But all that pruning cost us something. It cost us in time and labor. And in our efforts to save some of the landscaping surrounding us, other landscaping died. 

We piled tree trunks and branches on the curb for collection. The final mound of dead foliage was 6 feet high and wide, and 15 feet long. By the time it was all picked up, we had an equally large patch of dead grass in our lawn. Five months later, it’s smaller, but still distinctly visible.

The grass that died under the weight of the branches has me thinking about my relationships. How many relationships have I killed with the weight of my words? How many people stuck with me for just so long before they needed to move on, allowing the relationship to die?

It goes the other way, too. How many friendships have I walked away from over the years, because the weight of the other person’s words brought death to my spirit instead of life?

Someone once said, “Be careful of your words. Once spoken, they can be forgiven, but not forgotten.”

So true. I confess to having rehearsed hurtful words, long after I claimed to forgive the person who spoke them. Their words pierced my heart, arrows that found their mark, long after the sender may have regretted speaking them. I said I forgave, but I said it from a distance.

Or perhaps we are the ones consumed with regret for words spoken in the heat of the moment. We attempt reconciliation with the other person, but even years later, their hurt is still raw and they choose remoteness rather than reconciliation.

Of course, healthy boundaries are important. If the other person won’t acknowledge their responsibility for the damage they’ve caused, then it’s not wise to continue the relationship at the same level of intimacy. God calls us to forgive unconditionally, but restoration and reconciliation are processes that may or may not occur.

Still, what if you and I were more careful of the words we speak? What if we stopped those words before we spoke them, instead of asking forgiveness after they leave our mouth?

Winston Churchill once said, “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”

The writer of Proverbs observed, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18 ESV), and “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21 ESV).

It’s easier to maintain a good relationship than to have to repair it. To that end, I want my words to be gracious, even when I’m hurt or angry. It’s worth it because people are worth it. People created in the image of God and people for whom Jesus Christ died.

I know I can’t do this in my own effort. I need the Holy Spirit’s work in my life to strengthen me in this area. So today, my prayer is, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3).

Will you join me in that request?