We’ve all been there—those days when our spouse or children are on our nerves and we feel as if no one in the household is listening to us. We want to snap back at them with verbal jabs to show them how frustrated we are or run our mouths off in order to prove a point and win the argument. And in those moments, we may say something we regret…something that is overly critical towards our child and hurtful to his little spirit…something that zings our spouse like an electric shock. Or, if you’re not married, perhaps you’ve said something careless to your sibling or to another family member that caused trouble in your relationship.
On the flip side of the coin, most of us have also been the recipient of unkind words, whether spoken from a spouse, child, co-worker or parent. Critical, harsh words hurt us deeply, especially when the speaker routinely harps on a shortcoming. I still remember a classmate telling me my eyes were too big when I was in the fifth grade. I also remember, because I have the memory of an elephant, every unkind word that’s ever been spoken to me. Though I’ve forgiven, the words still ring through my head in the moments I second guess myself.
Throughout the Bible, we’re reminded that our choice of words has a lasting impact on the lives of those around us. A wise person uses self-control in order to preserve their relationships and understands that words can build up or tear down another. The Bible instructs us to try to tame our tongues as best we can: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).
Whether you’re a spouse, parent, sibling, child, friend or co-worker, your words carry weight, more weight than you imagine. You may move on once the words are off your lips, but the other person is stuck dealing with and interpreting your message once the words reach his or her ears. Emotionally charged words that are spoken in the heat of the moment or careless words that are said without respect for another’s path (gossip) are cause for ruin. Emotions are fleeting but words, once spoken, are out there for eternity.
Think of the weight your words have on your children’s fragile, love-seeking souls and the damage that critical or rash words can do to their hearts. Or, the sadness that comes from hurting a grown-up loved one as you realize that an adult is still but a child of God who also craves affirmation. Of course, we all want to be the latter in the case of Proverbs 12:18: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” It is lack of self-control and other self-seeking motivations that cause us to forget the impact of our word choices in the heat of the moment.
Let’s strive to remember the truth—that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Proverbs 18:21)—as we’ve seen with victim’s of bullying or experienced ourselves as a result of being hurt from another’s words. We’ve also been the ones to speak too soon, gossip, lie or criticize and have experienced the trouble and ruin that come from our own mouths.
Let us keep this wisdom close to our hearts as we move through the week: “Whoever keeps his mouth and tongue keeps himself out of trouble with others” (Proverbs 21:23).
So let us pray today to practice self-control in the midst of all situations we encounter, knowing that our words have long-lasting effects on our children, spouse, family members, neighbors and co-workers. Let us remember to have gentle and gracious words that are “like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24). Where we have spoken out of turn or unwisely, let us seek forgiveness and strive to heal the pain that our words have caused. And let us pray that our words are pleasing to God as we read Psalm 19:14: “Let the words of my mouth and mediations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”