You know what?! I’ll just say it. If you would spend half as much time with me as you do on that game, we might have a decent relationship!!! There is no end to the work I do for you, the time I spend thinking about how to make you happy and the plans I have canceled to do something you wanted to do. And how do you repay me?!?! By having an affair with your stupid video game!!! I hope ‘she’ loves you when you are old and ugly!
No, these words were not verbally uttered; and yes, this is a fabricated monologue; but, as a not-so-newly married woman, I believe it is a completely conceivable one. In times of anger, I have uttered some extremely disrespectful, hurtful words to Eric. In those moments, he absorbed my verbal tantrums; but, later I discovered my careless words truly wounded him.
Sometimes, unkind words slip out before I have time to consider them thoroughly; but, other times I think of a “good” comment, roll it around in my head, consider the consequences, and blurt it out intentionally to attack.
Our tongues get us into a world of trouble if we do not bridle them!
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26, ESV)
“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” (James 3:5-6, ESV)
We want to believe we cannot help the words which come out of our mouths – especially when we feel particularly justified in our anger.
I know I should not have said it, but I was just so…
You know what, if they are going to act that way towards me, then they deserve to hear what I have to say…
It just came out! I could not help but tell him…
But, we do have a choice in what we say. It is easier to throw caution to the wind and let our mouths run than to tame our tongues; but, in the long run, we burn many hearts and bridges when we do. God has blessed me with some loving and forgiving friends. As nice as I fancy myself, I have let my mouth fly on several occasions. My friends chose to forgive me when I did not deserve it – that is grace. We cannot always expect our loved ones to let go of our hurtful words; and, even if they forgive us, is “speaking our mind” (i.e., releasing the sinfulness from within our hearts) worth the permanent scar it creates and leaves on them?
Because Eric is so thick-skinned, I tend to be more forceful with my words when I speak to him, and more careful when I speak to others (which is completely backwards). When I am angry (or worse, angry and tired), the temptation to “let him have it” is great. Many times, I decide within my own wicked heart to say what I “need” to say and deal with the consequences later. Unfortunately, the consequences of wounding a partner or friend are not like the consequences we received as children – time outs, groundings, or spankings. The consequences of our verbal misconduct live on and can cause extensive damage.
Though no one is perfect and we all stumble (James 3:2), we can take steps to prevent forest fires.
Don’t Play with Matches
Fires begin in two ways – unintentionally or purposefully; carelessly or carefully; accidentally or arson. And, though one may be less offensive in the eyes of the law, both cause forests, homes, and people to burn.
About ten years ago, my alarm went off, I stumbled out of bed, shuffled to the kitchen, and put some oatmeal on the stove as was my habit. While our breakfast heated up, I made my way to the bathroom – still half asleep. However, this morning was a bit different. As I emerged from the restroom, I noticed a warm glow reflecting on our white kitchen window shade. For a moment, I froze in fear, and then slowly inched my way towards our kitchen door.
Then, I woke up.
A blaze had encompassed our stove and was making its way to our overhead cabinets. So, like any red-blooded American woman, I screamed at the top of my lungs and Eric came running. Finally, I collected myself and was able to beat the fire to death with a kitchen towel. (There is still a burn mark on our floor as a souvenir of that memorable morning to this day.)
The night before, I placed an empty pizza box on the stove and went on my merry way; but, in my tiredness the next morning, I did not remove the pizza box and accidentally turned on the incorrect burner. The great fire of 2006 led to a no flammable materials on the stove at any time rule, and to my heightened sense of fire awareness. I smell smoke whether it is there or not! I check the oven and stove – sometimes repeatedly – before we leave the house.
Our kitchen fire was indeed an accident, but it could have caused a lot of damage to our health and property. In some ways, I am thankful for that moment because it made me more vigilant. If only – if only – I had the same reaction to the fires I have set with my tongue. Sadly, I have set dozens of emotional fires even after suffering the consequences of previous blazes.
My most memorable emotional arson offense came in the Fall of 2002. It was my first semester away from home, I was not handling it well, and my poor college roomie had to deal with me. Neither of us had experience in sharing a space and neither of us had sisters, so we were both in unfamiliar territory. After a few months of holding in my frustrations, I let the evil contents of my heart roll like a tidal wave – and it was over something completely stupid. I am not just saying that – it was absolutely the dumbest reason in the world to lose it on someone. She took apart our bunk beds. Yes, you heard right. She was tired of climbing to her bed like a monkey every night, so she disassembled our bunks so we could both have the pleasure of crawling into our beds without having to hoist ourselves in the air. Bunk beds are fun when you are seven, but they become annoying quickly when you are twenty. Not only did she do something as mild as disassembling our beds (without any help from me, mind you), but she did it with my permission. She told me her plans, I probably grunted in half-hearted agreement, and then when I returned later that night, our dorm room was in disarray.
My. Head. Exploded.
It was as if the last two months flashed before my eyes and every real and perceived offense shot off in my mind like pop rocks. Quickly, I left the room and attempted to collect myself, but the longer I was away, the madder I became; so, I returned to the room, transformed into a legendary fire-breathing dragon, and verbally ripped her apart. To this day, I am amazed and horrified at some of the words I spoke to her. How could I have avoided this moment?
- By talking to her when issues were bothering me instead of waiting for something like rearranging the room to set me off.
- By engaging with her beforehand when she shared her plans and taking the time to think through the process. Then, I could have given her a wholehearted answer rather than a grunt.
- By spending more time with the Lord during those months, relying on His strength rather than wallowing in my self-pity.
- By taking the effort to find other ways to recharge and unwind rather than spending most of my time in our room.
- By preparing for such a moment before it happened.
Take a good, long look at the handsome man you are dating. Enjoy an eye-full of the amazing woman with whom you share so much affection. Now, fast-forward your relationship three years and picture that same person making you angrier than you have ever been in your entire life. Before you know it, you are going to face a choice – open my mouth -or- keep it shut. At that moment, if what is about to burst forth from your lips is not being motivated by love, my encouragement is not to speak.
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, ESV)
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8, ESV)
What you allow yourself to think about and dwell on is what will invade your heart. And, what invades your heart will eventually come out of your mouth.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV)
In that split-second, while you still have the chance to stop the painful (unhelpful, damaging, piercing) words from escaping, remember the momentary “joy” you feel from shutting your significant other down does not compare to the regret and damage which follows. Our pride wants the last word. Our pride wants to tear others down and elevate ourselves. Our pride is what tells us we do not need God. Our pride is not helping us.
Maybe we would be less likely to wound people emotionally if the scars showed on the outside. The burn mark on my floor is a constant reminder to be aware of fire safety, but there is no mark on Eric which reminds me to keep my mouth shut when I have a disrespectful comment brewing. If I could see the scars, would that help me keep my mouth closed?
The love of your life is going to give you plenty of occasions to choose your words – harsh and biting, careful and loving, or no words at all. There is a time for careful, loving words and a time for silence, but never a time for harsh and biting. Even when we have to confront our loved ones, the motivation should be to build them up and encourage them towards holiness – not to vindicate ourselves or retaliate against them.
So, while you still think your significant other is the best person God ever created, start preparing for these moments. Memorize scripture on the power of the tongue. Practice holding back negative comments and rephrasing them positively. Back away from gossip. Take thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and refuse to dwell on what is untrue and unlovely. Have safe guards in place. For example, agree to count to five (or, even ten!) before responding in highly emotional conversations. Have a safe word you can use to indicate that you need to cool down before the conversation continues. Have five-minute time outs to process and breathe.
Will you mess up occasionally? Sure you will. We all do, but you can lessen the number of times you discourage and crush your sweetheart by practicing now for a more peaceful relationship. Your tongue, and how often it flaps, might just be the difference between a long and satisfying marriage and a long, unbearable marriage.
How skilled are you at stopping your tongue before it starts a fire?