This week's post by Theresa Adams
Recently some women of Redeemer spent the weekend thinking about the weight of our words. About taming the tongue. About the heart behind our words. And about seeking God's wisdom over our own. Through the teaching, listening, praying, sharing, crying, laughing, and eating we were able to walk away from that weekend having learned that we all struggle with taming our tongue. We all wrestle with knowing if our words lift-up or tear-down. Fill up or empty. Bless or curse. We all get to choose whether we speak or remain silent. Should you be of the opinion that it must be something only women struggle with, or only parents, or only teenagers here is what RT Kendall has to say about it, "Nobody can tame the tongue. Not a single person under heaven. Old or Young. Rich or poor. No matter one's color, race, or nationality. Tongue control cannot be attained by any gift we have, by any education we receive, or by the highest level of intellect." Encouraged, yet?
In the Bible, the Book of James, Chapter 3 we read such stunning imagery detailing the sheer power of the tongue and the lack we have over it. "How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire." We are all familiar with how the sky here, in the Pacific Northwest, darkens most summers, caused by the roaring forest fires in Eastern Washington and Canada. How even the sun can be marked by a hazy glow. Those fires cause acres and acres of destruction and devastation and they are often caused by a careless match or cigarette. Much like the fires our tongues can cause. All of us, most likely, have our own examples of times our words caused devastation. Or perhaps words said to you were what caused things to set ablaze.
For myself, I think back to when my boys were younger and the way I spoke to them. The words I would use with them would constantly set things ablaze and often times those words were said, as my kids would point out, with my “outside voice.” I would get so rattled. So frustrated. So negative that my words would come out sharp as a weapon. I would be remorseful, of course. Yet it would continue to happen. Again and again. So, I would try to "do better." I would try to will the words away. I would yell into pillows. I even went as far as putting my head in the freezer (on the internet's suggestion because everything on the internet is helpful. And true.) And, still, I couldn't believe how I would talk to my kiddos. These two kids that I had longed for so desperately. That I had prayed and cried for. We were told we would never even be able to have children and yet here we were with two and the way I spoke to them was despicable.
Weary of the load I was carrying I began to pray incessantly about my words. It was obvious nothing else was working and I was so tired of relying on my own strength and abilities. Over time Christ revealed to me that I was speaking to my kids out of a heart of anger and a lack of control. I had no idea how to cope with the fact that as they were getting older the amount of control I had over them was lessening. They were beginning to think for themselves. To reason. To have opinions. So I spoke when I should have listened. I used a harsh tone when I should have soothed. I criticized when I should have encouraged. When I would do so I would immediately wish I could grasp the words out of the air and swallow them back up. Because once they were out I could see my boys faces crumple. I could hear their cries and see their tears fall.
My words were coming out tainted and ugly because they were reflecting what was going on in my heart. Yes, I needed to clean up how I spoke to my children, absolutely, but more importantly I had some heart work to do. I began, slowly, to realize that my children were people too. That they had their own ideas, minds, and worth. Which was exactly how God made them and intended them to be. As a parent it was challenging for me to realize that the short people who lived in my home deserved the same respect as anyone else. James says in verse 9, "with it (our tongue) we curse people who are made in the likeness of God." Which is exactly what I was doing with my boys.
I think that's what we need to grasp...that no matter if we are a parent, student, professional, man, woman or child when we gossip about someone or judge them we are judging the very likeness they were made in. When we tear someone down we are tearing down the very God who spoke them into existence. No matter how they vote, where they worship, how much they make or how they treat you. With everyone we speak to, email, or text we have the privilege of building them up and the responsibility to not tear them down.
I don't think James wrote this letter to the church because he wanted them to "do more" in order to gain God's love or favor. Nor is he telling us to be performance driven. The God we love is good. If we malign Him by maligning someone else He still loves us just the same. If we have a great day where we build everyone up we come into contact with, He still loves us just the same. Paul Miller says, " Come dirty. Jesus said that He came for sinners, for messed up people who keep messing up."
For me, who sometimes still uses her "outside voice" it is good news to be shook out of my amnesia and remember that as messy as I am I can always begin again. Moment-by-moment. Day-by-day. No matter whether I hit reply to soon, send way too many texts, or simply don't think before I speak I know that because of Jesus, who has given me a new heart, I can get back up when I fall.
"'Cause Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
My sin had left this crimson stain, he washed it white as snow"