Keep the Cat in the Bag

By Keith Burden

Woodworking is one of my favorite hobbies. Through the years I’ve accumulated a variety of hand and power tools. I grew up in a carpenter’s home, so I guess I came by my interest in building things honestly. My biggest challenge today is finding time to invest in this craft.

As Christmas 2002 approached I was trying to decide what gift to give my six-month-old grandson. After some time and consideration, I settled on what I thought would be the perfect present—a hand-made, wooden rocking horse.

I began by sketching some plans and figuring how much material would be needed to create the toy steed. Next, I made a trip to the lumberyard in search of the perfect piece of wood. After a lot of culling I finally located a board that was practically flawless. The piece of fir was straight as an arrow and had a beautiful wood grain.

Mission Accomplished

When I had gathered the necessary items, I turned our garage into a workshop and started on the project. After hours of painstaking sawing, sanding, drilling and routing, I carefully assembled the various parts. A coat of stain was applied, followed by three applications of polyurethane. Once the leather ears, plastic eyes and yarn mane and tail were attached, the horse was finally finished.

I was proud of my little project. I hate to brag on myself, but the wooden horse really turned out great. I could hardly wait to surprise my daughter and grandson on Christmas morning.

Hey Neighbor!

A few days before Christmas I was working in my backyard. Our next-door neighbor called over the fence and asked what I had been building in my garage. I proudly explained the nature of my project. He was quite complimentary and said my grandson was fortunate to have a crafty grandpa.

The doorbell rang on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. As I opened the door my neighbor and his wife said, “Merry Christmas!” and presented me with a plate of homemade goodies. I thanked them for their thoughtfulness and introduced them to my daughter and grandson who happened to be in the living room at the time.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

“Oh, is this the little guy you built the rocking horse for?” he asked. As I stood there speechless with a bewildered look on my face, he realized that he had let the cat out of the bag. He was obviously embarrassed and immediately began to apologize for ruining my Christmas surprise.

In an attempt to defuse the awkward situation and make my neighbor feel better, I turned to my infant grandson and jokingly said, “You’d better act surprised tomorrow!”

Needless to say, this slip of the tongue wasn’t a catastrophic mistake. It wasn’t as though my neighbor had blabbed top-secret, classified military information to the enemy. Still, I wasdisappointed that my surprise wouldn’t be a surprise after all.

The Bottom Line

So what’s the point of my story? Simply this—we don’t necessarily need to tell everything we know. Some things are better left unsaid. James 1:19 reminds us, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” God created us with two ears and one mouth. We would do well to use them in that proportion.

We need to be especially cautious when it comes to what we say about other people. As Christians and Free Will Baptists, we have a covenant responsibility “to be careful of one another’s happiness and reputation.” This applies to what we put in print as well as the words we speak.

Jesus’ statement in Luke 6:31 serves as a helpful guideline in this regard, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”

Someone with an unbridled tongue will invariably protest, “But what I said was the truth.” They fail to remember that accuracyis only one criterion for determining what we should say. Appropriateness is another issue to be considered. Do I really need to tell this (even if it is accurate)? Does the person to whom I am speaking need to hear this (is it appropriate)?

Take it from someone who learned a tough lesson at Christmas. Before you repeat something you’ve heard, think twice before you speak. It could save you and others some embarrassment. After all—some cats are better left in the bag!