“Bite your tongue!”
That’s what moms—and teachers—used to say when one of us kids said something hurtful or gossipy.
“Zip your lip” means the same thing.
Different words than we'd use today, but the meaning is timeless: “Think before you speak.”
We more often hear, "Tell it like it is,".
It sounds good, but afterwards, we often wish the speaker had kept mum.
Thoughtless words "pop out" easily
Such tasty little tidbits for a moment or two make us laugh. Or mentally pat ourselves on the back over how much “better” we are than that other person.
Later comes the letdown.
That's when I find myself asking God to forgive my careless words.
Turn off the gossip spigot
I’ve learned gossip usually starts with one of these phrases:
- “Now, don’t tell anybody, but . . .
- “This is not for publication, but . . .
- “I don’t know if this is true, but . . .
I know now any time we start a sentence with one of those phrases, it's a red-flag.
A clue that signals we are wandering into dangerous territory: Gossip.
Time to cut off the flow, even if we're "only" listening.
Centuries ago Solomon warned against it:
Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. –Proverbs 26:20 NIV
A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man [woman] keeps a secret. –Proverbs 11:13 NIV
Thoughtless words matter, too
A good friend, younger than I, confided why she harbored some hurt feelings about a person we both knew. She went on and on about it.
So I, the all-knowing one, thought it helpful to say, “Look, you just need a thicker skin. You have to learn to not be so sensitive. Besides, you’re probably making too much of it.”
I walked away congratulating myself for my wise advice.
Not so fast.
Months later my friend told me how those words stung. “I knew you loved me, so I let it pass, but all my life people have been telling me not to be so sensitive. It took me years to work it through that God made me who I am. Mom used to call me “tenderhearted.” I’ve learned that’s not a bad thing. Hurting people often tell me how helpful I’ve been because I understand what they're really feeling.
“Good or bad, yes, I am ‘sensitive’—and finally, finally, I know that’s okay.”
All along I knew she has a gentle spirit, but I hadn't stopped to think how my glib words might sound uncaring to her.
Watching our words
Forget all the “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” stuff.
Not true. Words can inflict wounds that never heal.
Friendships die. Marriages fall apart. Parents and children become alienated from each other, all because one or the other vents their feelings in a moment of heat.
Blaise Pascal sums it up perfectly and points us to the better way:
Cold words freeze people, and hot words scorch them, and bitter words make them bitter, and wrathful words make them wrathful. Kind words also produce their image on [people’s] souls; and a beautiful image it is. They smooth, and quiet, and comfort the hearer.
Pascal's words are simply an echo of what we know
Throughout the Bible we pick up the same thread, like this, from the Apostle Paul.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is good for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. --Eph. 4:29 NIV
That's a large order, but can you imagine the ripple effects if we took Paul's words to heart?
It would transform our lives--and our relationships.
Let's pray and then go for it, knowing where the Power comes from!