The new edition of our first book, Stories from the Creekbank, features five new stories. This is one of my favorites.
“Curt, disregard that first message.”
Any school principal knows that phone calls from about 3:30 PM to suppertime are never good. They are usually from angry parents who have just heard their child’s (one-sided) story of discipline, trouble, or a fight.
So as I checked the two messages on my home phone this particular evening about twenty years ago, I expected the worst—and that is what I got.
The first message, censored for your ears, loudly began, “Curt, this is Tommy. You’d better get the sheriff’s department out to your house because I’m coming to whip you. First of all, I’m going by that bus driver’s house and beat him first. Then I’m coming to get you!”
He angrily related some incident that had happened on the bus that afternoon and the corresponding action by the driver. As I erased the message (a terrible mistake) in frustration, my thought was, “What did I do in this to deserve a personal butt-whipping too?”
The next message, recorded about twenty minutes later, was from the same number. Once again, it was my friend Tommy. In a subdued voice, he said, “Curt, this is Tommy again. Uh, Curt, just disregard, ah, that first… message. I found out what really happened and it’s all OK.”
I quickly erased that message too. (My second major mistake. If I’d kept those two messages, I believe they would have brought me—and/or Tommy—some fame or money.)
I’ve enjoyed telling this story over the years. It’s a lesson that what I say out loud can never be taken back. That is why the Proverbs are so full of encouragements to guard our tongue:
Proverbs 10:19 – “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
Proverbs 17:28 – “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent.”
Jesus’ earthly brother, James, also spoke of this, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
Tommy’s story is a fine reminder that we cannot “erase” what has been said. This is true with our tongue and in this age of the Internet, equally true with what we type and send.
It’s hard to take back.
Here are two simple lessons from this story:
Carefully guard what I say.
Read a chapter daily of Proverbs. There are 31 chapters—one for every day of the month. By doing this, I’ll be pretty familiar with the wise words of Solomon and other writers. Maybe that will keep me from having to ask someone to “disregard that first message.”