The greatest waves of guilt I've ever felt have been over my words. There's no way I could recall all the times my heart has seemingly fallen into my belly while reflecting on a conversation and my own ill-spoken words. I've thrown curse words at loved ones, I've criticized friends behind their backs, I've shared stories that weren't mine to share. Sometimes these words were simply poorly chosen, but many times these words were from my own internal darkness, pain and critical nature.
Thanks to all the ever-expanding avenues of connecting with people, it's so much easier to apologize and attempt to make things right than it was when I was in middle school. It also means there are more ways to over share. So while I may not have gotten better at thinking before I speak, but I am quicker to ask forgiveness. What eludes me though, especially in marriage, is that I can mentally prepare myself to be silent and not speak the words in my head and still have them spill out. I can visualize the pain my words are going to cause, maybe manage to sit on them a minute, and then my mouth just starts moving and out come the words.
One of the verses I memorized as a child came from James 3.
James 3:2-11For 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. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?
So the problem isn't just the lack of control of my words, but the nature of my heart. This is the struggle I face every day. How can a heart that is redeemed by Jesus cause so much pain and destruction through its words? How can I in one breath speak of love and grace to my kids and in the next express my exasperation with them? Words have so much power. I should use them wisely, with love, and always to bring life, yet I daily falter in this struggle.
While Jesus already has my heart, he's still working on it. I'm not helping matters when the words I'm filling it with are everything else on the Internet. I spend a lot of time reading the news, reading about politics and celebrities (they seem like news but are mainly gossip), snooping around the Facebook comment threads, and denying that these words do impact me. They shape my heart. They dictate what will later come from my own lips. I don't believe in sticking my head in the sand, but I also need saturate myself in what is lovely and pure -- words of life.
John 1:14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
I would guess that one of my biggest daily missed opportunities is letting God speak words into my life by spending time in the Bible. I cringe at the "I'm on a coffee date with Jesus" culture, and I shudder at the words "daily devo" (short for devotion in case you didn't know), and I forget that God has no interest in pop-Christian culture or that I have Instagram-worthy "Scones & Scripture." He asks that I bring my inadequacies and cynicism, and just shut my trap for a moment and listen. Perhaps I could shift some of my daily communing with People Magazine to communing with God. He can change me with his Word. He can give me strength to bridle my criticism and He will eventually make it so His words are the first thoughts I have.