George Bowers Sr.: Breaching a dam is dangerous business
Over the last few weeks, residents who live downstream from California’s Lake Oroville have endured fretful times wondering if their homes and families will suddenly be washed away. Reversing a drought that had plagued the area for several years, recent heavy rains have filled the lake to unanticipated levels and now, instead of deficiency, residents worry about devastating flooding.
On Feb. 11, water began flowing over an emergency spillway on the nation’s tallest dam that led to the evacuation of nearly 190,000 people downstream. That’s over four times the population of Shenandoah County. Engineers and officials were concerned that the 770-foot-tall dam might eventually fail, releasing millions of gallons of damaging water to wreak havoc on peaceful residential developments. Inhabitants were forced to quickly grab whatever they could and bolt to safety, wondering if anything would be left when and if they ever returned to their homes.
Thankfully, the dam continues to hold for the time being and residents have been allowed to return, at least for now. Nevertheless, they remain under a heightened state of alert as more rain continues to fall in the watershed area upstream fueling continued fears.
In the meantime, emergency crews have been feverishly working around the clock dredging debris, pouring concrete, dumping stones, and filling gullies created by the previous breach. Supervisors are hopeful that a great tragedy has been averted as efforts continue to shore up the exposed weaknesses. Such precautions and expense will hopefully prevent billions of dollars of property damage and potentially catastrophic loss of life.
Although most of us don’t live downstream from such a dam, we do all have some protections that can easily be washed out. Proverbs 17:14 tells us that starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam and that we should drop a matter before a dispute breaks out. Too many times we are quick to argue and defend our opinions, only to end up in bitter disputes that accomplish no good, and in fact, may cause much destruction.
It is easy to attack someone with an accusation or shoot back a nasty retort, and before we know it, we are involved in something from which it is difficult to withdraw and over which we have little or no control. The barriers of kindness and respect quickly erode as words pour forth and we irreversibly harm others. We injure their reputations, their feelings and their emotions as well as any relationship we may have had with them. Although we may be sorry for what we’ve said later, irreparable damage may already have been done. Ultimately, and most sadly, we harm the body of Christ and any witness we may have had for him.
One of the hardest things to ever do is to bite our tongues, walk away from an argument, and refuse to shoot back even though we know we’re right (we always are). But when we fail to exercise the self-control to do so, the dams of respect that maintain good relationships are destroyed and the waters of bitterness, anger, and hatred pour fourth with increasing velocity.
After the argument, nothing but a wasteland of hurt feelings and harsh words is left and the hard, if not impossible task of pumping the water out, cleaning up, and rebuilding begins. The dams of respect may take many years and many tears to be restored, if they ever are. How much wiser to initially hold our peace and prevent much damage later.
The next time we’re tempted to start a quarrel, may the images of the Oroville dam remind us of the spiritual truth of God’s ancient wisdom. Let us invite Christ to be the Lord not only of our souls, but also of our tongues that he might control them for our own good as well as for his. In so doing, we’ll maintain strong dams of respect and create a valley that is safer for all of us.
George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored seven books in addition to contributing to “The Wonders of Nature 365 Devotions Celebrating God’s Beaut”y by Worthy Inspired. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.