When I write, I edit the words on the paper very carefully, checking and re-checking for misplaced prepositions and misspelled synonyms. I read it over and over until my eyes are blurry and my head hurts, desperately trying to recall my high-school English lessons. I’m sure grammar Nazis-wait, I don’t like that term, let’s say…grammar connoisseurs-are now looking closely at this piece for my mistakes. You’ll find them, I promise. I’m pretty loose with commas. I’m so anxious about making mistakes with the black and white words of this page. These words will be released into the unknown of the online blog world for everyone to see. This feels terrifying. However, I can always go in and edit again later once it’s published, thankfully.
Not so with my out-loud words. There is no spell check or editor for the words that come out of my mouth. I don’t check and re-check my words before I say them. No one approves my statements before they come out of my mouth. I’m not reciting from a teleprompter. However, I’m rarely anxious about the words that are doing a swan dive off of my tongue into the air, even though I know they will never be able to crawl back into my mouth once they are out.
I wish it weren’t this way. I wish I thought more about what I was saying before I threw it out there. I wish I would hold my words until I found the right ones that will be most helpful to the people I love so much. Instead, I tend to say whatever pops into my head. Most of the time it is frustrated instruction for my children or words of anger aimed at my husband.
This happened as recently as last night as my husband and I argued on the phone about a scheduling conflict. I have control issues when it comes to our schedule. Over-scheduling makes me panic. As I started to feel threatened by an out-of-control schedule, words flew out of my mouth like kamikaze pilots on a mission with no hope of returning, and declared war on my bewildered husband. I sent rescue words in the form of an apology, and he was forgiving, but of course the damage to his heart was already done. Isn’t it always this way?
Do you ever do this? Am I alone in this verbal pit of despair? Hugs for you my fellow wordy friends.
Our only hope is to cling to the holy words of Scripture. The words that come out of our mouths are a reflection of what we have been putting in our hearts. What we are filling our minds and hearts with will be evident when we open our mouths. What does it matter how many good works we are doing or how faithful in church attendance we are when we are big meanies with our words. Author Kristen Welch says it this way in her book Rhinestone Jesus:
“Since the family is God’s means of telling His story, our goal is to build a strong family. One key aspect is having respect for each other. It doesn’t say much about me if I excel at loving others…yet I’m mad at my daughter…and verbally abuse her.”
The strength of our family and the mission of the gospel are affected deeply by the graciousness of our words to each other (…all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another - John 13:35). I think this is true of every family member, but especially so with Mom. We sometimes fail to remember how much weight our words carry with the hearts of our family until it is too late and their spirits are crushed under our harshness. Oh dear.
Jesus was painfully straightforward about this when he said to the Pharisees:
How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. Matthew 12:34-37
Ouch. The things we say testify to the submission of our hearts to the Father. That is terrifying when I think back to some of the careless things I’ve said. Many of my words have not given evidence to the work of Christ on my behalf and I am ashamed of that.
Proverbs has a plethora of things to say about the words we speak. Here are just a few:
There is one whose rash words are life sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. 12:18
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. 16:24
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. 17:27-28
Death and life are in the power of the tongue. 18:21
It would seem that our words say a lot about our mental, physical and emotional health as well as the spiritual. Our words can bring healing to the wounds caused by life, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. However, they can also bring pain, foolishness and even death. And our words are almost always tied to our ability to manage our anger. James 1:19-20 has been a life verse for me that my own daughters have spoken to me in moments when my spirit is not so cool:
…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
That means my offended and unrighteous anger, while it may cause enough fear to produce temporary compliance, does not bring about the righteous instruction of God that will bring true change in my children’s hearts. The effect only lasts as long as I am angry, and tempts my children to obey only as long as it doesn’t make me angry. This results in very inconsistent obedience on their part and unfaithful discipline on my part. But, when I speak the truth of God’s Word with mercy and grace instead, it creates space for the work of Christ in their hearts - and mine. This produces the joyful change that is needed far more than my sinful, self-righteous anger does.
I know these things. I know these verses. You may know the words of God too, but until we hide them in our hearts, we will continue to sin against God and our families with our words. (Psalm 119:11)
The struggle is that there is a wonderful feeling of control and power when we get our words off our chest, and it is addictive. For just a moment, we’ve said our piece and we feel relieved…but only for a moment. Then shame usually sets in and we will spend days regretting our words and trying to undo the damage to no avail. I fear this will be an ongoing battle for the rest of my life.
My prayer for us today is the very words of God, penned by a wordy fella named David.
Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:12-14
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16