I have always struggled with my tongue. From arguing to sarcasm to sharp, cutting words. I have memorized and meditated on verses about the tongue and our words. I have highlighted all the Bible verses I can find about it in blinding neon yellow! I have even hung them as warning signs around my home, disguised as trendy art.
Verses like the following:
“Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” – Psalm 141:3
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” – Proverbs 12:18
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1
But I have still struggled.
And now, to my sorrow and chagrin, my seven kids have picked up the habit.
I have prayed for peace in our home and for us to speak kind words to each other.
I have prayed for gracious words that bring healing instead of those that cut and tear down.
Yet somehow there always seemed to be a disconnect from my head to my heart. These proverbs were not becoming my pragmatism.
But one of our family devotions really sealed the deal for me. We were talking about James 3 (a passage I have poured over because it’s the king of passages on the tongue). We talked about how a horse is controlled by a tiny bit and a ship by a small rudder. Likewise, we are controlled by our tongues, a very small member of our bodies.
We talked about how our tongue is a fire and how much damage our words or even our tone can cause. James says that one little spark can set a whole forest on fire.
My husband said, “When we speak unkind words to each other it’s like our house is on fire.”
Finally! An image that matched the head-spinning, suffocating panic I felt in my heart when there was bickering and yelling going on —either with us and the kids, or between the kids!! I could actually picture enormous orange flames surrounding us in the house while bright red sirens were spinning and flashing!
I have often said that I feel like I spend my days putting out fires among my kids and now it made sense! Now I wondered how many fires one house could survive.
My husband then left us with this thought:
“Before we say something, we should ask ourselves, ‘Is this going to start a fire?’. ”
This is what we have been using now when someone starts to raise his or her voice, speak harshly, name call, or start a fight. Sometimes I ask it of myself internally. Sometimes my husband or I just say the word “Fire” to lovingly warn the children that they are starting to speak in an unkind way.
After only a day of doing this, the kids were already catching on. If I gave them a warning look or said their name, some would reply in a jokingly annoyed way, “Mommy, don’t say ‘Fire’”.
But I’m going to keep saying it because maybe it will annoy them just enough to remember it. I am hoping this will be one of those “parent-isms” they will fondly recall when they are adults, because we said it so often and because it worked.
The tongue is a restless evil. Who can tame it? Thanks be to God who has given us his power through the Holy Spirit to put out the “fires” in our home and even to prevent them before they begin.