Watch Your Words

Be Careful, Little Mouth, What You Say. Words Matter.

She asked me if I was pregnant, and snickered. Her words intended harm. It’s been over 20 years, but I still know her name and remember her face. I remember the green dress I was wearing, where I was standing in Mrs. Morgan’s 2nd grade classroom, and the sound of my classmates laughing. I was the “new kid” at school and longed to fit in and find my new group of friends.

I’ve never been a petite girl, but thinking back, I wasn’t even in the thick of what we affectionately refer to as my “awkward stage” at this point. And besides that, I’m not even really sure I knew what “pregnant” was or how it happened at this point.

Not Always The Victim

Unfortunately, I can also recall plenty of times where my words were the source of hurt.

I remember being 5 or 6, standing at the top of the stairs at our home in Virginia. My sister (two years younger) held out her little hand and asked me if I wanted to share her M&Ms. Though she was only trying to be kind, I remember seeing the sweaty little M&M rainbow in her palm and turning up my nose as I said, “not from your hands!” I remember thinking that I was being funny and that it was ok to speak to her in that way.

I’ve long-since apologized (more than once) for something she doesn’t even remember. But I do.

The Struggle Is Real

I don’t cuss. I don’t use innuendos (at least, not on purpose šŸ¤¦šŸ¼ā€ā™€ļø). I don’t lie. But goodness knows, I still struggle with my mouth. Controlling what I let slip off my tongue and *how* I say it is a constant battle for me.

Is it kind?

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

If you know me at all, you’ll know that I have no problem whatsoever telling you what I struggle with or what I’m battling. I think we all have this tendency to just assume that someone does or does not struggle based on the little we see or know about them. Turns out, we all wrestle with something. Probably more than just one something.

I know I’m not alone in trying and, more often than not, failing at controlling my tongue.

In the Bible, we are told that “if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2). Isn’t that crazy to think about? IF I could control everything that I say, I would be able to control every single other part of my body. I could be perfect in what I say and do.

The Inferno Started With A Spark

Have you ever ridden a horse? I’ve done my fair share of riding, although I by no means consider myself an “experienced” rider…my father-in-law still saddles my horse for me šŸ¤·šŸ¼ā€ā™€ļø. Horses are big, strong, beautiful animals. But what are they controlled by? A tiny little metal bit in their mouth. Even though these animals are tamed, those of us who haven’t practiced regularly with them still may find ourselves doing back-bends through the trees.

What about boats? Not just boats, let’s think massive cruise ships. They can completely change their direction thanks to a (relatively) small rudder. Sure they have powerful engines, but a tiny change in the rudder can turn your Caribbean beach vacation into a Canadian winter wonderland.

Finally, let’s talk about fire. All I can think of is Smokey Bear saying “only you can prevent forest fires.” That forest fire that Smokey is trying to prevent, starts from a single spark. Maybe someone’s bonfire got too high or perhaps someone carelessly flicked a cigarette butt out of the car. Fire, just like everything else, is a tool, but must be used responsibly.

James uses all three of these examples in verses 3-5 to show how little size can matter. The tongue isn’t a very big muscle, is it? It’s got a crazy range of motion and is very strong, but it’s certainly not a powerful quadriceps (yes, it is “quadricepS“…I looked it up šŸ˜Š). The tongue is capable of inflicting a whole lot of damage if used carelessly and without control. Even with practice, a “tamer” tongue still needs to be kept in line and checked regularly.

Tame the Untameable?

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.

James 3:7-8

If we know we won’t be able to tame our tongues, why should we even try? How does the old saying go – “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” C’mon, we all know that’s not true. Words can and do hurt. A lot. I’ve shared just two examples that come to my mind, and I’m sure you could add a long list from your experiences as well.

The Power of Words
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Our words matter. How we use our words matter.

We’ve all said things that we immediately wish we could take back. Well, you can’t. Those words are forever said. You can try to make amends and learn from your mistake to do better next time, but you can never ever really take them back.

I put my foot in my mouth…a lot. Probably because my mouth runs…a lot. I’m working on that. I’m not usually being mean for meanness sake, but trying to be funny, I say something hurtful or unkind that just did not need to be said. What did Thumper’s mom always say? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” There is always something nice you can say.

Words Reveal Your Heart

James concludes this section of his letter by reminding his readers that their words reveal who they really are. Speaking of the tongue,

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. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James 3:9-12

It’s as simple as “like produces like.” A grapevine yields grapes, not watermelons. An orange tree yields oranges, not apples. A baby bird does not hatch out of an alligator egg. And a mother lion does not give birth to a giraffe.

If your words are constantly betraying who you say that you are, you’d better check yourself. You’ll stumble along the way, but your words are a good indicator of what’s in your heart.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Luke 6:45

Guard Your Words

I don’t think I needed to convince any of you that it’s important to watch what you say. And I know I don’t have to convince you that words can hurt. The hard part is committing yourself to constant training and taming of your tongue. It is important, and it does matter.

A Few Words of Wisdom

I don’t claim to possess “wisdom” in this area, but I do know what I have tried to do and things that have helped me to improve in this area.

  1. Memorize Scripture. Yes, I’m sure you saw that coming, but it really does help! Memorizing a specific Bible verse on this topic can help you not be so quick with your tongue and to think about the words you are about to say. For starters, may I recommend Psalm 141:3? “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” If you really want God to help guard your mouth, you will probably keep that snarky comment to yourself šŸ¤.
  2. Pause. Literally, take a breath or somehow stop time before you respond. Some people say counting to 10 helps to diffuse a situation…that may be a little long for a conversation, but hey, if that’s what it takes for you to tighten up on those reins, then do it!
  3. Distance yourself. Is there a certain friend or group of friends that tends to sour your words? Maybe a certain topic, or two (or three…)? Put some distance between yourself and those things. Hey, I get it, we all need to “vent” and be real about how we feel sometimes. However, if that tends to be ALL of the conversation, you may need to reevaluate some things.
3 Tips for Controlling Your Tongue
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You can do this! Taming your tongue is tough, and it’s going to take a lot of work and effort. Remember that you are not alone in this struggle and that progress is possible!

Words can inspire.

And words can destroy.

Choose yours well.

Robin Sharma

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