Guadalajara is a beautiful city. One thing that fascinated me the year I lived there was the abundance of statues and fountains all around the city. Some of them commemorate Mexican history or honor a military figure. Others are simply designed to be beautiful. Many of these are positioned in the roundabouts which help manage the flow of traffic through busy intersections. There was a unique fountain in our area of town. It was made of large, concrete slabs stacked at angles in a roundabout. Water continuously flowed down from various heights. It was a familiar sight that always welcomed us home from wherever we might have been that day.
One weekend, Buddy and Jean invited me and my roommates to go on a road trip with them. We piled into their mustard yellow cargo van and set off to explore a little of central Mexico. It was a delightful adventure. We poked around in little villages; experienced the beauty of Mexico’s flora and fauna; and laughed a lot.
At the end of the weekend we made our way back to Guadalajara chatting and savoring memories made. Finally, Buddy turned the van into the boulevard with “our” fountain. For some reason that day the flowing water had a distinctly greenish hue to it. I spoke up and called attention to the obvious. “Ooh, gross. It’s green! That’s disgusting.” As we drove around the fountain, Jean told us the following story.
“There was a family we knew in Africa who lived in a lovely home out in ‘the bush.’ As is often true with missionaries, they had a constant stream of guests in their home: Africans, fellow missionaries, and other foreigners. The front of their house had a large window that overlooked a beautiful African landscape. Unfortunately, at some point, a narrow crack developed in the window and soon spread up the entire length of it. It was too expensive to fix, so they just left it. One time when we were visiting, they said to us, ‘You know, we have discovered there are two sorts of people who come into our home. There are those who walk up to the window and say, ‘What a gorgeous view!” And there are those who walk up and say, ‘Wow, you have a crack in your window.’”
The effect on me was immediate. Why did I feel the need to comment on the negative? My thoughtless words stole some of the joy of the trip from my companions, since they were some of the last words spoken in the van.
How easy it is to find the fault. It takes little skill to see a problem. No character is demonstrated or developed by always pointing out the flaw. Why couldn’t I simply hold my tongue? Many years later I heard someone suggest to a group of college students headed overseas: “Make observations with your eyes and not your mouth.” Yes, that is very good advice. It was what Jean had essentially suggested to me all those years ago.
Unfortunately, this would not be the last conversation someone would have with me about being quick to criticize. It has been a lifelong battle of mine to reign in my tongue.
- “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 NIV)
- “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Prov. 12:18 NIV)
- “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but gracious words are pure.” (Prov. 15:26 ESV)
- “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Prov. 16:24 ESV)
- “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak . . .” (James 1:19 NIV)
Sometimes I wonder how much worse this sin would have grown in my life if I had not heard the story of the African window when I was twenty-three. Thank you, Jean Albright! God has kindly helped me learn to choose the view, rather than point out all the cracks. If you know me, you know I’m still learning.
Do you struggle with this in your life? Are you quick to criticize or point out what’s wrong? How will you reign in your tendency?