When I was a kid and acted up or got a little sassy in front of my grandma, she would look over her black rimmed glasses and with the softest but firm voice and say, “Now Amy, don’t be ugly.”
Instantly no matter what I was doing or saying, I’d stop. Part of that immediate change came directly from the fact that I absolutely adored my grandma and did not want to disappoint her, the other part of my change was rooted in fear of having my grandma tell my folks that I was being “ugly” and I get in trouble when I got home.
Either way, her words still ring true today as a reminder that when situations get out of hand or when life isn’t going my way, it is not cause to be “ugly.”
And just so there’s no confusion, grandma wasn’t talking about my appearance.
Ugliness in character generally leads to painful consequences as we see with Miriam, Moses’ sister in Numbers 12:1-16
In this biblical account Miriam and Aaron slandered Moses for a decision he made regarding his wife. As the account goes, God immediately calls all three siblings, Moses, Aaron and Miriam to the Tent of the Meeting and addresses Miriam and Aaron’s verbal assault against Moses. God is not pleased at all with their behavior, in fact, as punishment, Miriam is struck with leprosy. When Aaron sees his sisters leprous state he immediately recognizes their grievous mistake and begs for mercy from Moses who then asks the Lord to heal his sister. God in his mercy granted healing but not without Miriam suffering the consequence of her “ugly” actions and living with leprosy for seven days.
Now when I first read this passage the first thing that came to mind was Proverbs 14:1, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.”
In Miriam’s story I am reminded that being ugly can take on the form of verbal nastiness towards a loved one, an emotional rejection of a spouse who has wronged you in some way, or even in physical separation from a friend whom you feel betrayed you in some way. All venues are painful and end with terrible consequences.
Reading Miriam’s story, I am quickly reminded how often (erg!) I lose my temper or say words that leave a nasty sting with the ones I love most.
The truth is, once ugly words are said, the damage is done. Being ugly, reacting in anger, popping off without giving full measure to our words before they’re spoken often leads to consequences that may be immediate or may rear their ugly heads days, weeks or even years later.
For example, when my oldest child was just a toddler we were heading home during high traffic time from an afternoon of errands when we pulled up to a stoplight. When the light turned green and the car did not start moving instantly, my son’s voice rang out from the backseat, “C’mon people give it the gas.”
I was shocked to hear him be so snarky, so I questioned him, “Where’d you get that?”
I argued, “You did not. I never say that.”
He just smiled and swung his legs in happy rhythm to the music on the radio.
Meanwhile his words stuck in my craw as we continued our way home.
My thoughts revolved around my son’s nasty comment. “Where in the world did he get that? I bet he got that from his daddy. Or maybe his grandma loses her temper when driving and I’ve just never seen it. Or maybe, it’s his uncle who is known for having no filter.”
As the light turned green and we headed to the next red light I just simply could not put a finger on who it might’ve been who used those words, but I knew it had to be someone who spent enough time with my son in their car that he’d picked up their rude habits.
Traffic was bumper to bumper, and cars were not moving and the more I thought about my son’s comment the more I became irritated with his words and traffic. I wanted to get home as soon as possible to get to the bottom of this, so I could put a stop to it immediately.
I looked up to see a green light and dead-stop traffic. I slammed my hands against the steering wheel and out came the following words, “C’mon people give…it…the…”
I looked back at my son and he smiled like the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.
I was 100% guilty.
Without thinking about the damage and destruction I was causing in my own home with my own child, here I was transferring my very ugly habit of fussing at traffic onto my unsuspecting son. I did not like what was being mirrored back to me through the voice of my child.
Miriam is the prime example of the type of power we hold over our family. We set the tones in our homes. We can speak words of encouragement, love and support or we can be like Miriam or even like myself and tear our homes, families and those around us down with our words, actions and deeds.
But please don’t be like me or Miriam. I am am a sinner in need of forgiveness and grace…daily, hourly and moment by moment.
Instead, look to our Lord Jesus Christ who set the example before us to always be kind, gracious, patient, self-controlled, compassionate and filled with love and joy to all around you.
With blessings and best wishes,