Words drive our emotions. They drive us toward love and anger, to embrace or reject others. We judge others by their words and the actions behind them. We are formed by our own words and the actions that follow.
The only times I fought as a kid were when a bully was picking on me or others. It happened twice both ways—twice a new girl, bigger than all peers once, and bigger than most peers once, bullied a group of girls. Both times I attempted to end the verbal harassment by physical assault. Once I ended up in the hospital with a concussion after being kicked repeatedly almost the length of the gym. My only other two near fights were when I was being picked on by a boy for my size and annoyingly high-pitched voice. Not surprisingly, I never fought anyone my own size. Most small—bodied kids were smart enough not to fight, especially opponents much larger and stronger. In that way, I was a very slow learner.
I learned a valuable lesson years ago, that my interactions with others are more about my relationship with God than with that person. Yesterday after hanging up the phone from filling my mom in on my current car repair saga, that lesson evolved, causing a heaviness of guilt after I called someone a bad name. No matter how worthy I rationalize a person to be of that title, my name-calling shows my need for more self-control.
Admittedly, self-control has always been an issue when I feel an injustice has been done. It’s a vice that I consciously must walk away from. Injustice lit my fire as a feisty kid, and it still does. But I’m no longer an 8 year-old whose actions can be excused as spunky and plausible.
While right is right and wrong is wrong, it applies to the whole picture, including the unseen—our relationship with our Savior. We represent Him in all we do, good and bad.
Calling one person a bad name to one other person is a sin. When I called the person a derogatory title, I let those words leave my mouth and enter the ear and mind of the listener. We have no control over how our words affect those who hear them. Satan is crafty to drop little weed seeds like my derogatory comment to negatively affect a person’s connection with God and compassion for others.
Empowered by the wisdom gained years ago through Stephen R. Covey’s training--The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I still have to make a conscious effort to be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win, seek to understand, then to be understood, empathically listen, and seek creative cooperation. I learned these principles in an in-depth 8 week training course and realized though not explicitly, they all have the wisdom of scripture to back them up.
While vengeance is God’s business, rebuke is part of being a wise, compassionate Christian. Proverbs 27:5-7 shows the benefit of speaking the truth in love for rebuke, “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”
Prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul confronted sin. Confronting sin is not wrong. However, who we speak to and how are as important as about what and why we speak. God’s Word teaches us to speak wisely, informed, full of compassion, with civility.
I love Shakespeare’s words in All’s Well That Ends Well: “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” These words echo Biblical advice in how to conduct our behavior and speech.
The instructions for Christian living in Ephesians 4:17-32 include the command to “be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil,” (verses 26-27). This applies to our thoughts, actions, and speech—our entire life.
Words and how they are used are powerful tools. Proverbs contains much advice regarding prudent speech:
Proverbs 11:9, “An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbor: But through knowledge shall the just be delivered.”
Proverbs 12:18, “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: But the tongue of the wise is health.”
Proverbs 15:2, “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: But the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.”
Proverbs 15:14, “The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: But the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.”
Proverbs 16:29, “A violent man enticeth his neighbor, And leadeth him into the way that is not good.”
Proverbs 18:7-8, “A fool’s mouth is his destruction, And his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.”
Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”
Proverbs 21:23, ‘Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.”
Proverbs 23:12, “Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.”
Proverbs 25:18, “A man that beareth false witness against his neighbor is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.
These are only snippets of wisdom. The full chapters in Proverbs from which these verses are gleaned contain much more about the power of our words.
As I recognize that a problem with the tongue is a problem with self-control, I feel Proverbs 25:28 is also fitting, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.
Psalm 19:14 should be more than a verse we memorize as kids in Sunday school; it should be more than a hopeful mantra; it should be our sturdy determination with each choice we make with our words and actions: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. This in mind, the God who created us knows the battle we face trying to rule our tongue.
We have encouragement in James 3 to realize how unruly the tongue is and how helpless we are to change it without our first being changed by Christ’s love and our relationship with Him as our Savior.
This chapter discusses how the tongue is “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (verse 8) but ends with how we can use our tongue for good with pure, peacable wisdom from above that is “gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (verse 17).
I hang my head in sorrow for my vileness as I surrender to God’s goodness and invitation to me: “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (verse 18).
Following is admonition from the New Testament to be careful of our words:
Matthew 12:36-37, “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Romans 14:12, “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
Ephesians 4:22, “Put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
Titus 3:2, “Speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.”
A remarkable real-life story of how one man tamed his temper and became a life-saving pediatric neurosurgeon and great humanitarian is Ben Carson’s story, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. In it, Mr. Carson, says, “I came to realize that if people could make me angry they could control me. Why should I give someone else such power over my life?”
Often we lash out in frustration or disappointment because we feel we have lost control of a situation. As we lash out, our health pays the price. “‘There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,’ says Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health” (Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It, hopkinsmedicine.org).
Swartz suggests the following steps can help one develop a more forgiving attitude:
Reflect and remember. The events, how you felt and reacted, and how the anger and hurt have since affected you.
Empathize with the other person. They may have past trauma that causes their current response.
Forgive deeply. This comes in part by understanding that no one is perfect. It also occurs whether the person deserves or asks for your forgiveness.
Let go of expectations. Don’t expect your forgiveness or your apology to elicit such from the other person. Also don’t expect it to improve your relationship.
Decide to forgive. A deliberate choice sealed with the action of doing so.
Forgive yourself. Realize that you aren’t responsible for the actions of another.
Though I have come a long way since taking upon myself the elementary school title of Justice Jeanie, I must determine to remain cool when thinking about the injustice, when interacting with the person who exacted the injustice, and if, when, and how I relate it to others.
Gossip is a sin. Always evaluate the purpose and possible outcomes of your sharing a personal experience or interaction. If the purpose and outcome aren’t purely edification, just don’t talk about it. This way, you’ll avoid gossip and the nasty harvest it brings.
It’s impossible to keep our cool when we focus primarily on the injustice. When we view the injustice in light of our relationship with God as a privilege and responsibility to show another person God’s way of not only love, but honesty, and doing what is right, we are blessed with peace as we plant a seed in the other person of what is right in God’s eyes. Remember, perspective dictates perception and purpose. Don’t view yourself as a victim but as an ambassador of God. You’ll be empowered to bring the light to the darkness.