The dressing room is private, but not sound proof. The bantering between clothes changers and those who waited for them added an element of recreation to my dress hunting mission. A young and playful voice spoke from the room next to me, ping-ponging questions and comments to "Grammy" and, I'm guessing, a younger cousin seated on a bench close by. Grammy sounded fun and her opinions sought and valued. Without seeing the voice of my fitting room neighbor, her tone and topics conjured up an older teen, positive and teasing, and I smiled at her kind and clever sense of humor.
A few stalls farther away from me another voice caught my attention. This I surmised to be an older woman. She was quick to judge appearances, too this, or not enough that and this makes me look like___fill in the blank. She gave commands to whoever was outside her door to fetch another size or to make sure not to get another one of those.
How our words give us away, I reflected, as I quietly left my changing session. If I would have given a running account of my thoughts as I tugged on tight bodices and wiggled through unzipped crevices, what would you have surmised about me?
Deep inside the little book of Ephesians, there's a verse that arrests my attention.
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Eph. 4:29.
Avoiding unwholesome, I might have under control most of the time, but what about helpful for building up, tailor made to their needs and giving them a gift with my delivery of words? It happens most when I listen mostly, hearing their needs and caring, wanting to extend kindness.
Reading the gospels and concentrating just on the words Jesus spoke and how and when he said them, would be a speech course worth signing up. As I read the story of Christ's death and resurrection this weekend, I was impressed by the kindness in his words to his mother and to John as he hung in agony on the cross. He tells a dear friend to care for his widowed mother. My mother heart feels the tenderness Mary must have experienced as she heard those words. In the throes of grief, Jesus' words would have been a priceless gift to her.
Simon Peter knew the depths of regret and self loathing as he cursed and renounced, Jesus, the Master and Friend, he loved dearly. Fear had gripped him in the moment. We sorrow with him. There are no words of rebuke from Jesus, yet there must have been a wondering, and awkwardness in Peter 's heart as he sees Jesus after his resurrection. He understood forgiveness or he would not have stayed with the group of believers. His sin could have driven him to despair and hopelessness. But Peter grieves, yet counts on grace for himself and from the other disciples.
Later, on the shore, the risen Lord asks three times for Peter to respond to him with a declaration of love, each time assuring Peter of how he is needed and the place where he belongs in Christ's kingdom. Peter's wound of failure is still tender, and Peter is upset that Jesus pushes against the hurt. Maybe Peter wanted to forget the past. He knew he loved Jesus; why did Jesus keep asking? Perhaps Jesus was insulating Peter from future doubt about how things stood between them. Or doubt that he was good enough to serve in the Kingdom. Peter's repeated confession of love brought things to the open. Resolutions that bring our hearts to restoration and peace are harder to question later on, if they have been spoken aloud and others have heard. I don't know for sure what Jesus was accomplishing in that encounter, but that he singled Peter out and spoke so personally of their relationship and spoke prophetically to him the same number of times as Peter had denied him, affirms again that Jesus cares deeply and speaks what is necessary and beneficial for us to hear.
Do you need to know Jesus cares about how things are between you? He freely forgives your sins, sees your longing to be fully restored and wants to clear the air with you, so you don't need to wonder if he loves you less or if you love him less. Confess your love for him, openly. His love never ends and his good purposes for you won't be thwarted. That's how complete his forgiveness is.
Father, teach me more about your love. May my speech reflect our love for each other. Teach me what to say and how to say it. Let me build others up and give gifts of tenderness and kindness from my tongue. When I grieve you, help me to recognize and confess my sin. I will declare my love for you, and I pray you let nothing stand between us.