Have you ever been in a situation where you keep putting your foot in your mouth? Not literally, but when the words coming out of your mouth don’t come out the way you intended and seem silly, stupid or even insulting? I know I have had seasons in my life where I felt the only time I opened my mouth was to change feet! Embarrassing for sure.
It is during these times I reflected back to my summers as a kid on my uncles farm. Specifically I remember, hanging in the oversized farm kitchen, a ceramic wall hanging with a pithy saying. I remember it because it was hung right by the door and on more than one occasion it was brought to my attention. It was a picture of a cartoon farmer on a cartoon tractor that was quite obviously out of control. Beside the cartoon were the words “Be sure your brain is in gear before engaging your mouth!”
The tongue, the words we say are surprisingly powerful despite “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!” The truth is many of us have been hurt by the careless words of others, and truth be told, we too have probably inflicted our fair share of hurtful words. Consider some ancient wisdom from a book called Proverbs - a compilation of many writers edited and compiled from 715 - 686 B.C:
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21
“Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Proverbs 25:15
As Proverbs 18:21 suggests we not only can speak death but also life! Proverbs 15 suggests wholesome words can be a tree of life and the words of the wise promotes health. A follower of Jesus suggested "Likewise 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." (James 3:5)
This doesn’t mean our words need to be fluffy, bubblegum, rainbows and unicorns - rather our words need to be truthful AND loving. It is not possible to be loving without being truthful. This however doesn’t give us permission in our self-righteousness to hack and slash others!
I came across this acrostic that I think is a good way to test our words.
T - is it True? Sounds simple enough but be careful you are not stating an opinion / perception as if it were gospel truth! Doesn’t mean you can’t say it but should change the way you say it.
H - is it Helpful? Will your words bring genuine, needed help to a situation or in a way just piling-on?
I - is it Inspiring? Will our words inspire greater love, deeper meaning, better performance, perseverance or healthier thinking and behavior?
N - is it Necessary? Do you have to say it? Sometimes its best to be silent and not re-state the obvious.
K - is it Kind?
It may sound funny, but we need to practice speaking words of life and ask for grace to retrain our minds to do so. Jesus told some folks that what we speak (how we speak) is a reflection of what is happening in our hearts (Mt:12:34). It is for this reason being reflective about our words will also give us an indication of what’s happening inside us and what areas may need some attention. Angry, sarcastic, cutting words are almost always an sign of pain we need to address - be aware, often, in these situations the presenting issue is not the whole story. 😉
Take a few minutes to reflect on a challenging conversation or two you have had recently. Pay attention not only to what you said and how you said it but what you felt in the midst of it.
- Is there something you need to address in yourself?
- Prayerfully ask the Father for grace and insight in those areas.
In what ways can we speak life to those around us? Our spouse, children, employers, employees, etc?
In what practical ways can we integrate T.H.I.N.K. into our lives and interaction with others?