Line Six

In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings.

“Your notebook is surprisingly well organized.”

My son’s math teacher made that comment when passing him in class. She wrote something similar in a mid-term review, leaving out the ‘surprisingly.’ When my son repeated the words, his emphasis, tone, and facial expression made it a backhanded compliment – more insult than encouragement. I don’t know what his teacher intended, or if she knows how her words were taken. It hardly matters at this point. What she says now doesn’t receive the benefit of the doubt from him, at least at first. He regularly reframes his initial negative attitude with a larger “even teachers need grace” neutral to positive perspective – not an easy grace for a sixth grader.

“I was surprised to see you understood the material on the test.”

My high school chemistry teacher said that when she stopped me in the hall one day. She had come out of her classroom when she saw me pass by. Mrs. Steele was smiling and her interest in me came through her words. She hadn’t been sure that she was an effective chemistry teacher for me and was happy to see that I understood a subject she loved so well. Thirty-three years later, I am still grateful for her words.

But it isn’t really the words, is it? On the surface, Mrs. Steele’s comment doesn’t read so well. You had to be there. The same with the notebook comment. It’s not just the words, it’s what comes through them. Children can tell when the intentions are good, and they are usually flexible enough to forgive verbal missteps.

What we say and do matters. How we feel about others permeates our deeds. When I write or speak, I ask for the Spirit’s guidance because words are important. When I string them together in a way that opens into God’s holiness, I give thanks. When I use them in ways that hurt, I ask for forgiveness – from those I know and those I’ll never meet. I wonder: how many times I have been forgiven for my words, given the benefit of the doubt? Seventy times seven doesn’t even scratch the surface. May I be gracious enough to assume the best and intend the gracious when I read and hear – and remember that God and so many others have done so for me.

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