Fall is in full swing, and while fall is fun, fall is also full – full of sports, homework, after school activities, Friday night football games, late night dances, and time with friends.
While fall is fun, it is also full at a pace that leaves little time for margin. I don’t know about your household, but when margin gets squeezed out in our household, so does our tendency to use thoughtful, thought-out, (anything involving a thought, really) words. Instead of having patience for each other, we yell things at each other in passing, like, “Pick up your stuff!” or “Don’t talk to me that way!” or “Don’t be so rude!” With five women in the house, words, emotions, and hormones can fly so fast and so furiously that sometimes we all need a minute to take a breath and slow down. In fact, I’m pretty sure I overhead my husband tell my brother-in-law last week that our male dog, Boone, is the only one in our house he can ever count on not to be overly-emotional or on its period. Poor guy.
When words fly and we say inconsiderate, hurried, and hurtful things, it’s easy to make excuses in our hearts and minds and think, “No big deal. She knows, deep down, I love her.” But Proverbs 10:20-21 says, “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.”
Our words are such a big deal because our words show what we’re worth.
If your heart is focused on, surrendered to, and in tune with the Spirit of Christ (see Galatians 5:16), what’s going to come out are words refined like silver, worth their weight in gold, edifying, valuable, and profitable to those around you. When your focus is on yourself, when your words are wrapped up in weariness, frustration, and the irritation that comes from the people around you being, well, people, what comes out is foolishness. Emptiness. Words that aren’t worth their weight in air.
So how do we change our words? We slow down enough to let the Word of God change us.
We have to slow down enough to let the Word of God change us individually, and then we have to slow down enough to let the Word of God change us as families.
What this means in real time is hard. It means carving out time to sit down, just you and the Lord, with an open Bible and an open heart. It also means carving out time to sit down as a family with open Bibles and open hearts. During a busy fall, with busy schedules, what this means isn’t saying no to bad things; it’s usually saying no to good things. Good things like an extra practice, a fun event, or a meeting where good information is being shared.
But at some point, we have to determine not just what is good but what is best and essential for the health of our souls as individuals and families.
Last week, World War III broke out in our house as everyone was getting ready for school. And the shot that started the war was a hair straightener. Yes, you read that correctly. With five women in the house, neutral objects like hair straighteners can start a war. In this instance, it was picture day at school for one of my girls (a day otherwise known as “a fight over hair waiting to happen”), and obtaining access to the hair straightener became a matter of life or death.
What started out as the innocent question of, “Can I use your hair straightener?,” turned into a yelling, name-calling, door-slamming, tears-streaming kind of event. By the time everyone walked out the door, harsh and hasty words had been spoken by everyone in the kitchen, two of us were crying (I may or may not have been one of those people), and as the door closed, I was left wondering, “What in the heck just happened here?” My normal tendency is to start doling out consequences right and left and rewriting the morning schedule. But this time, I just thought quietly and prayed about the situation and the words that had been spoken all day.
Everyone played a role. Everyone said things they shouldn’t have said or used a tone they shouldn’t have used. And it all happened so fast in the rush to get out the door that it took a while to tease out the threads that had tangled the whole situation together.
So by the end of the day, instead of doling out consequences and telling everyone what I thought he or she had said or done wrong, I thought I would let the Word of God speak instead.
After dinner was over, I asked everyone to get their Bibles and bring them to the table. I explained I was going to read passages from the book of Proverbs about the power of our words. As I read, each person was to think about her own part in the strife, turmoil, and hurt of the morning. When I was done, the only way someone could speak is if they were confessing their own part in what had happened. Not their sisters’ part, or their parent’s part, or their dog’s part, but their own part.
Here is some of what I read:
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
Hatred stirs up strife,
but love covers all offenses. Proverbs 10:11-12
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. Proverbs 10:19
Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
but a man of understanding remains silent.
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered. Proverbs 11:12-13
Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life;
he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. Proverbs 13:3
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh,
but envy makes the bones rot. Proverbs 14:29-30
A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly. Proverbs 15:1-2
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. Proverbs 15:4
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. Proverbs 15:28
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding
than a hundred blows into a fool. Proverbs 17:9-10
The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
so quit before the quarrel breaks out. Proverbs 17:14
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Proverbs 17:27
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him. Proverbs 29:20
You could have heard a pin drop around the table by the time I finished. Everyone’s heart was convicted, including mine. Confessions were made, apologies were received, and what had been broken that morning was set right. Here’s what I know – in a family of six, that won’t be the last time a hard conversation and a good look into the Word of God about the power of our words will be needed. Hard words are going to happen. Hasty words are going to happen. Angry, self-righteous words are going to be spoken. And I am chief and foremost among sinners.
The point isn’t to have perfect words. The point is to make margin to have our words, and our hearts, exposed by the power of the Holy Spirit and a God who loves to set crooked things straight and make broken things new. In fact, James says, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2). This cannot and will not happen without intentionality, a plan, purpose, time, and margin. And again, you and I are going to have to learn to say no to some really good things. But if we want to be “slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry,” REFERENCE we have to take the margin to sit down with our God and with one another.
What needs to be trimmed out of your schedule to make room for the Word of God?
What needs to be shut down in your family’s schedule so that you can sit down together?
What hastily spoken or hurtful words do you need to go back to, account for, and apologize for?
Making margin to slow down enough to speak words to one another, especially to family members, worth their weight in silver or gold is hard. It requires being brutally honest with yourself about the effect your words and tone have on your listeners. Honesty, integrity, and margin like this is so necessary if we are to become a people who accurately reflect the image of our God. He is a God who spoke the world into being and upholds it with His word of power (Hebrews 1:3). He spoke the final, perfect word of Jesus to atone for all of our careless words and to give us the opportunity to speak words of power, life, and light into broken homes, broken hearts, and broken circumstances (Hebrews 1:2-3). It starts with having enough margin to let the Word of God challenge us, convict us, cut us to the quick, lead us to repentance, restore our relationships, and heal our hearts.
What needs to happen in your heart and in your home this week?
Read again through the verses about our words in Proverbs.
Pray and ask God to show you where your words don’t line up with His Word.
Repent where necessary.
Put accountability in place to help your words line up with what God’s Word says to be true.
Finally, make praying and reading through those verses part of your daily or weekly routine.
Will you and I ever be perfect in our tone and words while living on this earth? I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think so. But what we can do is learn to run regularly to the only Word who has the power to change our hearts, rewrite our words, and restore broken relationships and broken hearts.