Turbo Tongue

Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! (James 3:5)Beautiful stylish fire flames reflected in water

James had a healthy respect for speech, and its power to bless or destroy. Frankly, it’s power I’ve come to fear.

When working with couples over the years I’ve heard more complaints about what a spouse said than what a spouse did. Granted, husbands can do some terrible things, ditto for wives, and actions can indeed speak louder than words. But it’s usually the wrong words strung together, not the wrong deeds, that have damaged the marriages I’ve been privy to. The more I think about that, the more I have to respect the power of the tongue. In fact, looking over the most painful parts of my own history, I’d say it’s words, not actions, that inflicted the wounds I can still feel. I’ve been in fist fights that drew some blood, but remembering them hardly affects me; I almost grin (childish, but true) thinking about physical combat. But verbal? Not so funny. Schoolyard taunts, adolescent name-calling, or sarcastic, cruel remarks from adults or peers going back 40 plus years can still evoke hurt in me, and I find that to be the rule more than the exception with others as well. Think about your own life for a moment. Isn’t it true that words spoken to or at you, whether positive or negative, can still have impact? Powerful thing, that tongue.

Especially at home. When you walk through your door you should feel you’re entering a place of safety, the one location where you can rely on being valued, heard, nurtured. So if there’s any one place husbands and wives should watch their mouths, it’s in their home. And if there’s any one place spouses are commonly guilty of verbal carelessness, it’s also in their home. Common, but not very smart, as Solomon said:

“It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house.” (Proverbs 25:24)

It’s unfair to suggest that’s strictly a female problem, since plenty of men make their wives miserable with the wrongs words at the wrong time. But the principle’s solid: If you vowed to love, honor and cherish a person, your fidelity to that vow will show in your words. And if it doesn’t, then you should seriously consider to what extent you’re making life harder for the person you’re partnered with.

Here’s a simple assignment I often give husbands and wives: Ask your spouse if the way you speak to him/her makes he/she feel valued by you; why or why not; and what, if anything, could you say (or stop saying!) that would increase your partner’s confidence in your love and support. Please try this out. Maybe you’ll get a straight-A report card as a response, and if so, you’re a champion spouse. But maybe, and I really mean probably, you’ll get an education instead, since many of us take for granted the right to vent, explode, pick at or verbally withdraw from our partners, maybe because we’re harboring unresolved anger; maybe because we’re just used to each other and so assume our spouse can absorb our mouthiness without any damage being done. But trust me, if your tongue is wagging the wrong way, damage is being done, and unchecked, it will only get worse.

So inquire. It never hurts to do so. Ask for some feedback on your speech, take it to heart, and recommit to spouse-building, which is, to my thinking, a principle responsibility of any married person. I can take comfort in knowing I provide for my family, help around the house, and cart the kids around. But in rating my effectiveness as a husband I can’t afford to overlook the way I talk, because as Jesus Himself said:

“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37)

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