I have been overwhelmed recently by the privilege and huge responsibility it is to be a parent. With my daughter approaching her 'tween' years, I've been considering how I am helping her navigate her way towards teenagehood. The process has made me think about the values we hold as a family, and what messages she gets from us while she is with us each day.
I was challenged by a book that I have been finding extremely useful (She's Almost a Teenager), in which I was reminded of how much the world around them can tear our children down, and that we are there to build them up. I was really struck by a question the book suggests we ask ourselves before speaking to our children: 'Will what I'm about to say build up and encourage my child to grow as a person, or will it attack and tear down my child?'
I wrote it down in my journal, and was pondering how that question could really help me in the way I relate to my children, when I felt God ask me: What about your husband?
I've noticed recently that I've fallen into the trap of pointing out the things he hasn't done, or ways he's upset me – so he's wandering around in a sea of negativity that I've placed him in. Ouch. That one hurt. Because so often my immediate response is: 'But yes, God, if only he would do as I've asked (100 times) then it would be so much easier to be encouraging.' As someone who thrives on words of affirmation, I know that my husband will respond better to encouragement rather than nagging, but I am also very aware that it is something I find quite hard.
But God continued to speak – this time he said: What about your friends – and what about those who have hurt you?
He was really going for the jugular! But it made me reflect once again on how much power I hold in my tongue. Scripture reminds us that the tongue has the power to tear down or build up – "The tongue has the power of life and death". (Proverbs 18:21) I think sometimes we can be too flippant with our words, speaking out rather than reflecting first on how what we say may affect those around us.
The Bible is very clear that God takes all our words seriously: "everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken". (Matthew 12:36) The NKJV calls them 'idle' words, and the NRSV 'careless'. That is an incredibly sobering verse – and I think we need to start taking more notice of it!
Speaking is as natural as breathing to us, but sometimes we forget the power that our words hold and simply let them flow out without much thought. They really do have the capacity to spread such joy and encouragement – or crush their hearers completely. So, as you consider the Scriptures below, ask yourself: how often do I think about the affect of my words before speaking?
1. "The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." (James 3:5-6)
2. "The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts." (Proverbs 18:7-8)
3. "The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit." (Proverbs 15:4)
4. "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence." (Proverbs 10:11)
5. "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." (Luke 6:45)
Isn't it interesting that so many of the verses about the power of our words are found within Proverbs, known as the book of wisdom? May we learn to be wise with our words...
Here's a great prayer from the Psalms. Why not pray it every day?
6. "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer." (Psalm 19:14, NLT)
And here are some instructions from both the Old and New Testament to really consider before speaking. Why not make it your aim to purposefully follow them, starting right now:
7. "Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
8. "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." (Ephesians 4:29)