In a recent meditation from the 2013 issue of Guideposts Daily Devotionals, there was the story of a family who had adopted a small child from China. When she arrived in their home, it was discovered she had a serious bone disorder. Developmentally, it would take until her teen years before she would grow normally or have adequate strength. Meanwhile, she would remain very susceptible to broken bones.
The woman writing the devotional told of going to the home where the child was living. There she found her in a bed, having fractured a leg and a wrist in what for most would have been a very minor fall. The little girl was only three years old. At her bedside was her new brother, who was six years old. The visitor said: “Your little sister is such a lovely girl." The brother looked up and answered, “And she is happy all the time, and smiles a lot, and we all love having her here. But, I am sorry she is so breakable."
We never know when the people we encounter are, in fact, “breakable.” We do not know what they have gone through, or what they are going through, that makes them fragile or frightened. But sometimes, without intending to, we can add to their injury or create a new one. Often it only takes a word poorly chosen, or a gesture that seems unkind, to deepen their wound or increase their feelings of pain or vulnerability. Maybe that's what The New Testament is talking about when it says," Speak the truth in love." (Ephesians 4:15) It's really all about thinking before we speak (or act). Because once a word is uttered or a deed is done, it cannot be retrieved. It belongs to the person who heard it, or to all the persons who heard it, and who then may repeat it – whether or not they do so accurately.
The moving finger writes, and having writ,
Moves on, Nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it. (from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam)
Sometimes that which is done is done and cannot easily be undone. That’s why it always makes sense to put one’s mind in gear before hitting the mouth’s accelerator. There are usually two reasonable questions to ask before making a comment: (1) What is my intent in saying this? And, (2) How might the other person interpret my words? For what I say and what you hear are not always the same things. A statement intended in jest can be interpreted as a word of judgment or critique. A statement offered casually can be taken all too seriously. Sticks and stones can break our bones, but we heal from sticks and stones. Unkind words create wounds that sometimes remain open for years and years to come.
"I'm sorry she is so breakable." What an insightful statement from a little boy, probably with a depth of meaning he himself neither intended or understood. But you and I know it is there. People are, in fact, breakable. Fragile. Vulnerable. And as the packages we receive in the mail often say, people should be" Handled With Care." When we read the life story of Jesus, He was always exceedingly gracious with those who came to Him. In fact, Matthew says, “He was moved with compassion upon them, for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) If our compass is set on Compassion, it always leads us to the right place.