Washing the dishes this morning, I accidentally sliced my finger on a rough edge of a pitcher lid. I groaned. Speaking from experience, a deep, bleeding gash on my fingers or hands is about the worst for a mom. For the next few days, I am going to have to think about every time I go to wash something or wash my hands. As a mom, this means pretty much every chore is going to require planning so I don’t use my weight in band-aids.
‘I am going to have to be intentional about how I use my hands,’ I thought. Then I felt that God-nudge, the way He usually puts a thought in my head. What if you had to be that intentional with your tongue? What if there were a cut on your tongue and every word had to be planned carefully? How would that change the way you talk all day long? Would it change the way you speak?
Does God ever convict you so hard you cringe?
If you’re like me, I can usually get a hold of myself before I DO something I’ll regret, but too often my mouth just keeps on trucking. Because we can’t see words, we sometimes mistakenly believe they do not have the power that they really do. I don’t know how I ever convinced myself to be less than perfectly careful with my words. I have lived most of my life with the scars of cruel and careless words.
I thought I was a smart, funny, and basically valuable person until I started kindergarten. I distinctly remember not fitting in, kids teasing me, and calling me names. It was the first time I felt like there was something fundamentally wrong with me, but not the last. A devastating level of teasing continued until I was in high school, which was better because I could choose with whom to associate, but I still heard plenty of judgmental words defining me. I searched the truth of those definitions. I questioned who I thought I was. I rebelled against who they said I was. But I rarely just flat out ignored those words.
I should be the first person to know how powerful words can be, how especially the cruel ones can cut a heart to pieces, but I’ve lived in some sort of denial bubble about the way my words can affect my child, even though I’ve grown much more conscious of how my words and tone can affect my husband and friends.
I don’t think I’m overly cavalier about my words. I don’t run around swearing or insulting people, but if one negative comment can haunt me nearly 40 years later, am I being as cautious about my mouth as the rest of my home? I’ve got plastic covers on my plugs, safety door knobs, medicines put up, but certainly haven’t given as much thought to filtering my mouth as I should, as God calls us to do.
Proverbs 13:3 “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.”
Proverbs always does such a good job of getting right to the point. We are to guard our mouths. Guard means to watch over to protect or control. Instead when we say the wrong things, we say it ‘slipped’ out, as if by some magical accident. The reality is we got so caught up in our own emotions, usually anger, that we didn’t choose to censor ourselves.
James 1:19“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;”
James makes our responsibilities pretty clear. We are to listen first. What we are feeling and what we have to say are deliberately supposed to follow listening to others. If nothing else, when I stop myself from saying something when frustrated or angry, I often decide that nothing needed to be said. Sometimes, it is my own issue, not the other person’s; sometimes I decide I didn’t have anything uplifting to offer; sometimes I decide the other person isn’t in a place to hear me in love.
Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
My husband and I were about to have an argument, in the car, in front of our daughter. We were ten minutes from home and ticked off. How we talk to each other in front of her will have long reaching consequences into her life. How I respond to my husband will affect our marriage. He was angry. I was angry. He told me to drop it. I didn’t want to drop it. I wanted to let him know how I felt; I wanted to solve it right that second. The unhappy feelings inside me begged for an instant solution. I prayed for God to give me strength to control myself, to know that it didn’t have to get resolved this second, to wait until I could choose the moment and my words carefully. I quickly felt peaceful about it. Once we were home and had both taken a breath, I was able to choose words that respected him and loved him and explained my feelings without criticizing him. No more argument.
Learning this lesson with our little ones is all the more crucial because they cannot stand up for themselves, won’t call us out on our destructive behavior. They will assume it is their fault. They will ingest our poison as a statement about them, not us.
Old school parenting tells us to count to ten when we get angry. Sounds like pretty good advice to me although I find that praying during that ten seconds is more productive. Even if you feel so upset or angry that you feel out of control, if someone important called or came by at that exact moment, most of us could summon enough self-control to speak kindly to that person. If we could summon the patience and control to speak kindly to our boss, pastor, or neighbor, shouldn’t we even more so find the energy to filter our mouths for our most important audience?
Our children are going to make us angry. We need to search our hearts for the source of that anger, if it is selfishness or righteous, but even in righteous anger, we should be mindful of our choices.
Ephesians 4:26 “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,”
We quote this verse often as marriage advice, but in context is instructions for Christian living in general. If our closest neighbors are our family, our closest examples of Christian community are in our home.
We all fall down from time to time. We all need to seek forgiveness daily. But where we put our focus and heart is a big factor in determining where we let the rest of us go. The Bible even tells us that our mouth is a good gauge of our hearts.
Proverbs 15:28 “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.”
James 1:26 “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
As one of the ladies in my Bible study group likes to say, BAM, in your face, convicted! If you’re really struggling with being careful with your tongue, words, tone, are you seeking the Lord with all your might? I find the more time I spend reading the Bible, praying, meditating on what is good and wholesome, the less I lose control of myself. If I spend a few days thinking, I’m good, I’ve got this . . . well, let’s just say, we all know pride goeth before the fall.
Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
God’s word has a lot to say about what we say. I can’t even do this subject justice, but the verse from Ephesians sums up the main ideas nicely. Depending on the translation, the verse instructs us not to use corrupting, foul, unwholesome, hateful, filthy, or hurtful words. We are to use words that build up others, perhaps this includes Godly conviction of sin, but only when as an extension of God’s grace, his loving, unwarranted forgiveness, so that we are ministering to those around us.
Have you tried and tried to control your mouth, to seemingly no avail?
James 3:8-10 “But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
When James teaches that no one can tame the tongue, he is saying that we need to give it to God. We need to bring our entire selves to the feet of Christ and ask for the sinful parts of us to be buried with our sins. We need to ask God to give us the conviction and tools to be Godly.
Words like, “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me” have power too, but they don’t erase what came before. Having the humility to apologize and ask forgiveness is important modeling for our children. It teaches them we’re human, how to be real about being flawed, but it doesn’t necessarily erase the harsh words that came before.
Do you remember the children’s song “be careful little tongue what you say, for the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little tongue what you say.” Right now, I’m hearing it in a child’s voice in my mind, conjuring the image of my daughter standing next to Jesus watching me.
Matthew 12:37 “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
God’s condemnation of me is scary enough by itself, but my witness will be a large factor in drawing my daughter to Christ or pushing her away. If we believe that Christ is truly our salvation from hell, our salvation from a Godless world, then I want that salvation for her. It is a pretty frightening image, but with all I know of psychology, sociology, and Christianity, my words may not only condemn me, but also my sweet daughter, if I do not make sure they are full of grace, so be careful little tongue what you say . . .