“Aaaagh, my plate is on fire!” my daughter screamed.
It wasn’t surprising that her plate was burning. The only surprise was that she seemed surprised. After all, she was holding a paper plate over an open flame.
Our family was enjoying a crisp, autumn evening around a campfire. The kids were roasting marshmallows when Grace apparently got
bored and decided to roast her plate. She poked her clothes hanger through the middle of the plate and held it over the fire.
She was surprised when it ignited. “I only meant to burn it around the edges just a little,” was her explanation.
I understand. There have been numerous times when I’ve just wanted to burn something around the edges, only to have it blaze out of control. The Bible says, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James. 3:5-6).
Wow! What a strong statement! “A world of evil that corrupts the whole person?” But wouldn’t you agree that small words have the power to cause huge damage?
We often don’t intend for our words to burn down the house, we just want to “burn around the edges a little.” We don’t mean to totally destroy someone, but every now and again, we like to scorch someone with a little criticism. Sometimes our words are innocent, but we combine them with a flicker of sarcasm to fan the flame.
After all, people need to be straightened out, don’t they? “Put them in their place,” we say. “He had it coming,” we justify. “Well, it’s the truth,” we explain about that little bit of gossip.
The problem is that words are like the flames my family’s campfire; they don’t stop with burning around the edges. They greedily consume the whole plate. And one flame tends to ignite another; my words ignite yours, and the flame grows – along with the damage.
You and I will have opportunities today to criticize, to humiliate, and to share unflattering comments about others. We also have the choice to refrain. Let’s consider the potential damage of the forest fire we may start and resist the temptation to “burn around the edges a little.”