When I was an adolescent perhaps 13 or 14, I started noticing… well… girls. Like most, I was unsure how to deal with my feelings. That being said, on occasion I made teasing, hurtful or unkind comments:
- This one has braces.
- This one has an ugly sweater.
- That one has frizzy hair.
- This one has Coke-bottle glasses.
- That one is pigeon-toed.
You get the picture.
One day, my father heard me make some comment. He leaned over to me, grabbed my arm. and looked me straight in the eye and said, “Every one of these girls is going to grow into a beautiful woman. You are not going to believe the changes that are going to occur. And guess what…every one will remember exactly how you spoke to them. They will remember you.”
I respected my father’s guidance and so I was “extra nice” to all the girls at school thereafter. However, this really isn’t about how to get the most beautiful or handsome prom date. The fact is as you travel through life every one will remember you and what you said.
My Dad was right. Words are tiny things that wield incredible power. With words, we are able to make love or war with merely a syllable or two. In the Bible the book of James says, “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” (James 3:5) We may rarely think about our word choices and how we arrange them, but our word choices, arrangements and intonation shape our lives, our memories, our past, present and future. And they shape others as well.
We’ve all seen first-hand the power of words spoken with deep love or deep hate or anger. We know that long after someone has passed and is gone, their blessings and curses remain on our spirits. In fact, words are so powerful they can mark us forever. Knowing this, James directs believers to attend to their words. Governing our words, refraining from labels that judge and taking responsibility for our words shows personal growth in godliness. Evagrius Ponticus (Christian monk, AD 345-399) wrote, “Better a gentle worldly man than an irascible and wrathful monk.” Words reveal to the world what is really happening in our hearts. What James says is absolutely correct: “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8) As Christ followers, we need help to change how we use words.
When I was in college, I attended a church that emphasized prayer and the use of words. Within our group fellowship, we attempted to address our addiction to criticism, critiquing and our judgmental natures. When we encountered situations where our critical selves started to take over, we would say, “I am addicted to criticism. If this discussion continues in a critical way, I will need to be excused because I cannot stop myself once I get going.” As Christians and followers of Christ, we need help to change our patterns of speech and unrighteous vocal habits.
Thank God that the Holy Spirit dwells within us. The Holy Spirit lives in us and can support us to change our verbal transgressions. Indeed, God intends to renew our tongues so that we become God’s own word of blessing, truth and love for others. Healing and blessing others with our words is one way God heals…and we can heal… our world. Let’s love one another. (See John 15:12)