When we lived in California, we had a friend who always spoke slowly, as if calculating every word. Although the impatient side of me at times grew frustrated, I often wondered how many arguments, embarrassments and tense situations I’d avoid if I only took the time to think before I spoke. What’s more, how much sound knowledge would I gain if I took the time to listen–not smile and nod while my mind jumped to my next point–but truly listen, when others spoke. Listening is more than audible reception. It involves a genuine concern for others and a desire to understand not only the words they present but their intended meaning as well. And often, it involves holding our tongue.

According to the Bible, when I speak without thinking, I’m a fool inviting trouble. And perhaps, at times, even worse–a slicing sword inflicting wounds on another.

James 1:19 tells us, Understanding this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. (NIV)

A few months ago, after receiving very unfortunate news, I went to the store in a daze. You’ve probably been there once or twice–when your emotions are raw and your mind drifts elsewhere yet you attempt to continue with your day? After unloading my groceries, I absent mindedly returned my cart to the store and parked it outside–in front of the doors. Not the most considerate thing I could have done, I admit. And an approaching shopper told me so, in no uncertain terms.

Needless to say, as the reality of what she said settled into my fog-filled head, I was more than a little embarrassed by my actions. Truly, it wouldn’t have been difficult move my cart sideways a smudge, or even take it all the way into the store, but as I pushed it up the sludge-filled lot, honestly, it didn’t even occur to me. My mind was on the news I’d received and the friend the news involved, not the shopping cart in my grip.

But this event did make think–of all the times when I’ve reacted similar. Frowning at the woman who snaps at someone in the line ahead of me, not knowing she lost her job the day before. Honking at a motorist who cuts me off, not realizing she’s late for work after dealing with a sick child, again, and fears losing her job. Jumping to conclusions when my husband comes home from work frazzled and a tad bit grumpy, instead of taking the time to learn more about his day and the event that soured his emotions.

Slow to speak. Quick to listen. Slow to become angry…taking the time to see past the exterior, to offer the benefit of the doubt.

Lord, help us view others through a grace-colored lens.