About five years ago I dedicated my life to James 3’s Taming the Tongue. I was sitting in church one day when my pastor, at the time, said he had challenged himself not to say anything negative about someone who was not present. He would brag about someone all day, but he would not speak badly. I liked the sound of it and applied it to my life directly. Immediately, it became apparent to me how much work I had to do in this area. I didn’t realize how much time I spent talking about other people. I had entire relationships that were predicated on exchanging information about other people’s lives.
There is nothing good that comes out of gossiping about or bad-mouthing another person. It destroys relationships. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for the edification according to the need of the moment so that it will give grace to those who hear.” If we limited our speech to that which is outlined by this verse, think of how different things would be?
I’ve been practicing this for a little while; it’s interesting. There are people and places that I stay away from completely because I know if I go over there, I will be tempted to engage in unwholesome conversation. There are conversations I won’t start and questions I won’t ask because I know they won’t lead to anything good. And, I fail all the time. Recently, life got stressful, and I said some things I truly regret. I would start a sentence and my brain would say “Abort! Abort!” but I kept going. One of the biggest misconceptions I had was thinking that one day my speech would be perfect. Now, I understand it is a constant work in progress.
Not talking about other people is hard. When someone asks me what I think about someone else’s outfit or life choices. It’s difficult to remain silent because I want to be accepted and to be liked. But, I have found living one’s life for Christ will cost the popularity vote every time.
Why do we spend so much time talking about each other? Why do we have so many opinions about other people's lives? What they are doing, what they aren’t doing, and how they are doing it. We get together and bad mouth someone who isn’t present and as soon as he or she walks up, we grin and ask them how they are? Or, we sit and speak bad things about someone we do not care about and are not trying to help. Why do we do this? There are entire industries where people get together and formally discuss other people’s personal business. It’s appalling. God does not treat us like this. He communicates to each of us directly and lovingly.
Coincidentally, we all know how hurtful it is to be talked about. The feelings of betrayal and anger that are often accompanied by it. Why do we find it so difficult to treat each other kindly and respectfully? How do we praise God with the same lips with which we degenerate His created thing?
What we say and do says more about who and where we are than it does anything else. “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasures brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from which fills his heart.” Luke 6:45.
A few years ago, I had this huge problem with a young woman that I didn’t know very well. I knew more of her than I knew her. I found it difficult to speak a positive word about her. I remember analyzing my response to this woman’s life, and I asked myself “Am I jealous of her?” I believe I was. It was my jealousy that kept me from being able to see things clearly, think objectively, and, most importantly, obey God’s word. I don’t believe people only speak badly about people that they are jealous of, but I do believe that how we see and treat others is a reflection of how we see and treat ourselves.
Is it okay to seek advice on how to handle a situation? Yes, the bible speaks about seeking wise counsel. But we need to check our motives and be thoughtful about how we do it. One year, I was quarreling with my cousin. She and I are always disagreeing about something. It’s been said it was like this since we were little. When I was a baby, every time she would hold me I would cry. Anyway, we were having our standard quarrel, but this time, we were both adults. I went to my mom to tell her about it and she told me “no” she didn’t want to hear about our disagreement because it may give her feelings about my cousin that she didn’t need to have. Now, that was smart. At the time, I didn’t see it that way. I was upset. How could my mother tell me no? But when it comes to choosing God’s way and any other way, there is no competition. My mother knew I wasn’t coming to her for advice. I was just going to tell her what she said and then what I said. Not only do we need to be careful with what we say and to whom we say it, but we must be careful about what we listen to. Communicating with my mother is interesting. When she speaks about other people, she deals in fact and not much else. In my adult life, I have never heard my mother utter a bad word about someone we know personally. I’d like to be like that.
There is a quote I like, “The tongue is the only tool that gets sharper with use.” I find these days, I am using mine a lot less and quite differently. One of the greatest transformations I’ve noticed is how much my thinking has changed. I don’t formulate nearly as many opinions about people as I used to. The opinions that I do formulate are completely different. They have less to do with what I think and more to do with what The Bible says. Additionally, I make a concerted effort not to project my values onto other people. I am not the standard; my way of doing things is neither the right way nor the only way. Impatience has cost me entire relationships and ridiculous amounts of needless frustration.
“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist. I have met a lot of people who knew exactly what everyone else should have been doing. Ask them a simple question about their life, and they have no idea what to do. I was one of them. In some ways I am still one of them. One of the best things that have come out of this dedication, is the self-assessment. I want to see who I am clearly. Spending less time pondering other people’s lives has given me more time to ponder my own.
Deciding to honor the Lord with my speech was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It has shown me things about myself, helped me to recognize things in others, and brought me closer to the Lord. Every day is a struggle but each day I struggle differently than the day before. I must be vigilant and unmoving and truly take the time to think before I speak.
I hope one day to be known as a woman who uses her speech to build, encourage, and sharpen those around her.
I encourage you to leave all unwholesome talk behind and see how it changes you.