Isn’t it amazing how much trouble our tongues get us into? So many of my regrets revolve around my tongue! Once, at community college, I was complaining about a classmate to another classmate, soon finding to my horror that the subject of my rant had walked up behind me. She walked away and never acted as though she’d heard me, but I should have kept my tongue in check! After moving in the dorms at Liberty University, my poor roommate got to experience my tongue multiple times when I expressed anger and frustration about the perils of sharing small spaces with others; I’m sure she could tell you stories.
We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our tongues unless we’re brushing them or scratching the roof of our mouths, but they heavily contribute to our lives. They allow us taste, they help us swallow, they protect us against swallowing poison, and they help us to communicate verbally.
Our tongues come in quite handy when it comes to nourishing ourselves, but they can be quite the little jerks when it comes to communication. Then again, it’s not our tongue’s fault when it helps us form hateful, sarcastic, or gossiping words. Our tongue is under our control – so, it is possible not to speak even when we feel like we will burst.
Our words matter… a lot. Last night, I watched a show about the weight loss journey of two severely obese twins (Extreme Weight Loss with Chris Powell… love that show!), and my eyes filled with tears when one of the twins confessed that he’d tried to overdose. He said he was lying on the floor, drunk and popping pills, when the phone rang. It was his dad – the man he had not spoken to in ages – calling to say, “I love you.” How amazing that he would pick that particular night to call his son! It sounds like God orchestrated that phone call. The next day, he gave up drinking and drugs. All he needed was an “I love you” from his dad.
Just as words can build someone up they can also tear someone down. Most of us can probably think of a least one hurtful comment someone has made to us. Hurtful words have a way of digging roots into our memory. Our parents, friends, and sweethearts can give us endless compliments, but we still remember the one time they got angry and hurt our feelings.
Burning the Forest Down
Scripture has a lot to say about our words. James 3:5 (ESV) reads, “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!” Consider this. You see your pastor at a local coffee shop. He’s sitting with a woman who’s not his wife and you can tell he’s not counseling her. So, you call your friend from the church and tell her your concerns about what you’ve seen. Later, your friend mentions it to another friend who mentions it to another friend. Before you know it gossip is growing and spreading all over town. By 7pm the pastor’s wife gets a phone call from a concerned church member. So, the wife gets off the phone, confronts her husband, and they have a heated discussion where he tries to convince her nothing is going on being angry and disappointed that his wife didn’t trust him. And as it turned out, the lady at the coffee shop was his sister who was in town unannounced for a visit, but once the fire was lit it set the forest ablaze! This is how easily someone’s testimony can be tainted and how easily lives can be ruined by an untamed tongue.
Words and Relationships
Do you find yourself carelessly tossing words around? I have certainly been guilty! The longer I’m married, the more I realize the power of Eric’s words in my life. When he says something to me in anger, it affects my whole world. It’s all I can think about for a while, but when he affirms me (which he does far more often) it motivates me! Did you know your kind words could motivate your sweetheart?
When I clean the kitchen and he tells me how nice it looks, I perk up and want to do more for him! When he tells me he’s so glad I’m his wife, I want to be a better wife to him. The other day when we were working with a couple, he said that I was the most important person on the planet to him and it made me feel giddy inside. Words matter. We can use them to build our relationships or we can use them to tear our relationships down.
Think about this: you’re building your custom dream home by hand. Each day, you spend hours meticulously hammering, sawing, and nailing away. After a few weeks, the wood that once sat in a pile now forms the skeleton of a home. You’ve made some real progress!
Then, suddenly, in a fit of rage you take a sledge hammer and start ripping down all your hard work. It took you weeks to build it, but it only took you minutes to destroy it.
Relationships are the same way.
It takes a lot of care, concern, and purposeful kindness to build a good relationship, but painful words can rip down in a moment what it took you so long to build. I’m not saying that one unkind word will kill your entire relationship, but I am saying that it takes far longer to build someone up than it does to tear someone down.
Recently, I read that a person needs twenty positive statements for every one negative. If you begin tearing each other down as a way of life, there won’t be enough positive interactions between you to keep your relationship afloat. Even if you do stay together, your relationship won’t thrive under those conditions. We need to hear uplifting words from our significant others!
Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say
Not only do negative words affect relationships, but making and breaking promises will also cause damage. Eric is the king of saying what he means. When I get angry, I may say something like, “I’m never going into that store again!” basically as a declaration that I’m really ticked off. But, let a few months go by and a good sale happen, and I’ll probably head right back there!
Eric, on the other hand, means what he says in such situations. A few years ago he was mistreated by a staff member at a national food chain. This lady, who would not let him speak to her manager, made my rational husband so angry that he contacted the restaurant’s headquarters and told them he would never again eat at their establishment. Guess what? He meant it! No matter how good their food appears on commercials or billboards, he absolutely will not go back on his word. He doesn’t regret his decision because he thought it through before he made it.
That situation taught me one very important lesson: when Eric makes a promise, expect him to keep it. His verbal integrity can be frustrating, like when I want to go to the restaurant he (now we) are boycotting, but it also brings me comfort because I know he made a decision to love me forever – and, by golly, he’s going to do what he said! ~smile~
Trust is fragile and when we make promises to each other, such as saying that we’ll be somewhere at a certain time or that we’ll keep a date free on the calendar, and then we go back on our word, trust begins to sever. Some personalities are keen on always doing exactly what they say, while other personalities are more go with the flow and don’t see as much harm in changing plans at the last minute.
Regardless of your personality, it is important to take great effort in saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It will require thinking your commitments through before making them, and saying no to other options which become available (e.g., promising your girlfriend you’ll go to a wedding with her and then not being able to go play hockey when your friends plan a game on that day, etc.). It’s not always easy sticking by our verbal agreements, but your significant other will grow to trust your faithfulness to your word! It’s wonderful having a spouse that doesn’t go back on his word!
Tell Your Tongue to Take a Nap
Our tongues work hard… sometimes too hard. When you are tempted to repeat gossip, to say something sarcastic or hurtful, or to carelessly agree to something, send your tongue to bed. You won’t regret the times you didn’t repeat juicy gossip. You won’t lie awake at night thinking, “If I had only chewed him up and spit him out...” But you will regret those harsh words you cannot get back.
Remember the object lesson of the toothpaste: we can squirt it out easily, but it’s nearly impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube once it’s out.
Does your significant other speak harshly to you or go back on his or her word? Would you be willing to put up with such treatment in a marriage relationship?