On Sunday afternoon in a shallow area of Lake Michigan, I called my family in for a huddle. I challenged them all to a contest. For the next day and a half–the last moments of our summer vacation–we would only speak positive words. Any negatively spoken message would count as a tally mark against the individual.

Ken and I would participate, too, and refrain from lecturing or expressing frustration over the kids’ behavior (we do plenty of that the rest of the year). Even in private, we would use the honor system to include any negatively muttered complaints into our tallies. The family member with the fewest tally marks at the first bell of the school year would be the winner.

In the time it took for me to walk from the water to my towel on the beach, I had already stopped three negative comments from toppling out of my mouth. And I had already dished out two tally marks. Within an hour, I realized that I am in a constant state of correcting the kids–how they carried something or what they picked up or what they didn’t pick up. And I had to remind my husband that yes, groaning over the way a kid shakes sand onto your towel and telling him to cut it out, does count as being negative.

On our trek back to the car, I think God sent sand flies to test us. Try and be a completely positive family that is being swarmed and bitten by flies!

Only positive. Positive only. For a day and a half. How did we do?

I had envisioned splashing and laughing together on the beach. Gathering around the table for a lovely meal. Playing games and having meaningful conversations. But our contest proved to be far less positive than that. What I ended up with was tangible proof of our corporate negativity: a 3×5 card covered in tally marks! By the time the school buses had all rolled away from our house, our family had 61 tallied marks counted against us. The winner had five. (Ok, I’ll tell you. It wasn’t me. It was Lindsay!)

When God gave his people the ten commandments, they didn’t suddenly become perfect. They suddenly became aware of their shortcomings. The rules allowed them to see how guilty they were, and how desperately they needed a Savior.

In a sense, my little contest served a similar purpose. It showed me how negative I am, and it caused me to question how much of my negativity is spilling into the hearts of those I love most. I realized how desperately I need my Savior who faithfully tames my tongue and puts guard rails on my attitude.

The contest is over, but the year has just begun. Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wisest of women builds her house.” Lord, help my words to be positive and helpful, ever building this beautiful family you’ve given me.

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