"For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 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."--James 3:7-10 Before I had kids, I thought I was a pretty decent person. (I bet some of you are laughing at this point. You know what I mean.) Looking back, I didn't have continual angry outbursts. I wasn't impatient. I could be pleasant and friendly. I had things under control.
But then I became a mom. Somehow, that pleasant and friendly woman turned into a monster. It is so easy to slip into "mom-ese"---irritability, grumpiness and frustration oozed out of every word I spoke. My kids are the only people I talk to that seem to get the better of me. Can you relate?
At the moment, the words just fly out. It's like someone has taken control of my mouth and starts speaking through me. Afterwards, I wonder, "Who was that woman?" It is certainly not what I want to become. And it is definitely not the way I want my kids to remember me!
If you struggle with this too, I feel your pain. And yet, at the same time, I also know that we do not have to put up with this or shrug our shoulders and give in. My words can either give life or it can bring death. I still have control over that.
Even as I write this, I know this is a message I need to hear just as much as the next mom. Though, as James says in the passage above, no human being can tame the tongue, he also tells us it "ought not to be so." Implying? Even though we cannot tame it, we have a choice in how we use it. I have a choice to use my words destructively or constructively. I have a choice to wound or bring healing. I have a choice to tear down or build up.
Over the past couple of weeks in Sunday school, we have been exploring the area of communication in marriage. The Lord keeps bringing Ephesians 4:29 up: "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." (NIV)
In this single sentence, Paul gives us a simple four-part test for our words: 1. Is this word helpful? 2. Will this build up the hearer? 3. Is this word appropriate? Is this what they need at this time? 4. Is this beneficial to them?
Usually, if I am honest, my words fail one of the four questions. If I apply this verse, I would get rid of a lot of criticism, gossip, put-downs, sarcasm, scolding, ridicule, lying, and a whole host of other "tongue sins." When Paul talks about "unwholesome talk" the Greek word refers to food that has "the scent of death" in it. It is rotten, putrid, and well, unwholesome. If you don't want to ingest it, it's unwholesome. And yet without control of our tongues, that is what we're dishing out to the people around us.
However, Paul is not just about telling us what we are not to do. This doesn't mean we are to be silent as the grave either. Words have the power to give life, healing and blessing as well. Yes, it can be a fount of salt water, but it can also be a spring of fresh water that breathes life to its hearers.
This all depends on what is stored up in our hearts. Jesus tells us that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matt. 12:34) In some ways, this discipline flows out of a careful cultivation of other disciplines. When our hearts have been filled with the Word, we can use our words to teach and admonish (Col. 3:16). When we are praying continually, the Spirit reigns and rules in us and helping us to choose what we say. When we are at rest in our souls, when we have time to pull aside for silence and solitude, we slow down internally, which helps us not to speak without thinking. When we practice the examen, we then know what types of situations really get our goat and are able to develop a plan for such situations.
In today's journal, we will continue with these thoughts. Check in on this page for practical ideas and more thoughts on this topic. May our words reflect what God is doing in us, for His praise and glory and for the blessing of others.
P.S. The journal pages will be up until April 1, less than a week away! See previous posts in this series on how to access the password and page.