When You Come to the Fork in the Road - June 2020

By P. Daniel Buford     Yogi Berra, New York Yankees’s legend as catcher and manager, was king of the seemingly senseless statement, which became known as Berra-isms. Some of them attributed to Yogi he may have never said, leading him to say, “I never said most of the things I said.” Some of his classics were:

“When you come to the fork in the road, take it.”

 “It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.”

“You can observe a lot by just watching.”

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”

 “No one goes there nowadays; it’s too crowded.”

“Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

While Berra-isms are funny and were generally harmless, humor can be harmful. Humor can be good and clean; it can also be mean, sarcastic, dirty, and demeaning. As Christians patterning ourselves after Jesus Christ, we lay aside the humor that comes at the expense of others, instead understanding the value of good humor.

Paul understood the difference between good and bad humor. In Ephesians 5:1 he instructed us to be followers of God. Then, in verse 2 he gave us the positive thing to do: walk in love. In verse 3 and 4 he gave us the negative things to avoid: fornication, all uncleanness, covetousness, and filthiness. Then things get a bit startling. Still in the list of things not to do, he drops in “neither . . . foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” In verse 5 he continued with his “don’t do” list by listing whoremonger, unclean person, and covetous man and then closes by saying they will not have any inheritance in the kingdom of God.

In the midst of some awful sins such as fornication, whoremongering, and covetousness, God saw fit to remind us of the damage a little levity that is not convenient, not appropriate, and out of place can cause. Silly, flippant, foolish talk and crude joking can be hurtful, leaving lasting damage, even when the jokester may have meant no harm. 

Sometimes we make a dig, a jab, a hurtful comment, shroud it in humor, and then release ourselves from blame by saying, “But, I was just kidding.” The writer of Proverbs reminded us, “As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, so is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport?” (Proverbs 26:18-19). Things said in jest still have the potential to leave damage in their wake.

Idle words are a bit like idle hands and idle minds. The old timers said, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Idle words are too often said while the mind is idle. Another adage could be helpful here: “Don’t put your mouth in drive before you put your mind in gear.” (See Matthew 12:36.) Look before you leap and think before you speak. Think how your speech can either edify the listener, or it can tear down the listener. Death and life are in the power of the tongue. (See Proverbs 18:21.)

We are living in a new day. In our lifetimes we have not experienced anything like the COVID-19 pandemic with its shut-downs, travel bans, quarantines, six-foot rules, masks, and social distancing. Joshua described our dilemma when he told the people of Israel at the crossing of the Jordan River, “Ye have not passed this way heretofore” (Joshua 2: 4). The strangeness of the times has brought greater stress to our society, our families, and even our churches. 

This new experience is like sailing in uncharted waters. It is like swimming in a new swimming hole. I remember as a boy swimming in Beckwith Creek and Cypress Creek. When we first got to the swimming hole, we would not just dive in. We would not just swing off the rope first thing. Instead, we would “walk” the area and “feel” for the bottom, determining where the shallow end was, where the deep end was, and where the drop-offs were. That is what is happening in our lives now. We are trying to find the safe places and the dangerous spots.

With families practicing social distancing, being self-quarantined, working from home, and home schooling, we are having an abundance of “together time.” For some, it is pleasant. For others, however, it is too much togetherness. Families are getting on each other’s nerves, anger and impatience are boiling over. When the loss of jobs enters the picture, the pressures are compounded. Some reports are showing divorce rates increasing, suicide rates rising, and familial abuse increasing. 

This is not a time for bad humor, but just might be a time for convenient humor. God has placed a “merry heart” medicine within reach of each of us. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” Proverbs 17:22). Instead of reaching for the demeaning, sarcastic, hurtful humor, we can reach for the edifying humor that draws individuals together. We can rely on the righteousness, peace, and joy that comes in the Holy Ghost to help us experience righteousness, peace, and joy in our homes.

When we come to the fork in the road, let’s choose the high road, to build up and never tear down.