I’ve heard a lot of people comment that life right now feels like the movie “Groundhog Day”—the same thing over and over again with no end in sight. While there are blessings in having our lives slow down, there are also tensions and frustrations that overflow out of our hearts through our mouths and onto the people we really want to show love. Your spouse, your children, your roommate, your co-workers … even your dog might be getting the brunt of your tongue.
Thousands of years ago, James (Jesus’ brother) wrote about the unwinnable battle of taming our tongues:
We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check … consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
Maybe you, like me, hate snakes. Or spiders. Now imagine a snake or tarantula roaming around your house at all times, just waiting to bite with poison. This is the picture James paints of our tongues. Solomon said that both the power of life and death are in our words. Imagine either roses or daggers coming out of your mouth as you’re going throughout your “Groundhog Days.”
If you’re like me, you can spend time reading God’s Word and listening to praise music in the morning and start complaining ten minutes later. I’ve even complained about my husband and kids (and dogs) interrupting my time with God! As James says, both praise and curses come out of the same mouth. This shouldn’t be!
Over the past week, I’ve been challenged to make my words a point of focus and prayer. All five of us Slatterys (not to mention our dogs Zoe and London) are working and studying from home all day, every day. Am I speaking life or death into the ones I love the most?
Here are three practical things you can incorporate into your daily life as an act of pleasing God with your tongue.
When a challenge is too great, most of us don’t even want to attempt it. As James wrote, taming the tongue feels like an impossible task. Where do you even begin? Gossip? Slander? Little white lies? Complaining? It’s okay to start small! Pick one area of your tongue that you want God to teach you to tame.
Throughout my life, that “one thing” has changed. I’ve been through rounds of gossip, dishonesty, and negativity. In this season, the hardest thing for me is not giving unsolicited advice (translated: criticism and nagging). I never take off my psychologist’s hat, so I often notice things in the people I love that need to be “fixed.” Every book I read or sermon I hear reminds me of someone who could really use that advice! This is particularly true with interacting with my “almost-adult” sons. Their lives would be so much better if they would listen to me!!!
God is teaching me the power of staying silent and trusting Him with the things that I really want to say. It can feel like a major victory when I yield those unspoken words to my Father instead of pouring them out on people who really didn’t ask for them.
Stopping the negative flow out of our mouths is only one side of the equation. God doesn’t just want us to remain silent, but to use our words to praise Him, share good things, and encourage people. Actor John Krasinski started a weekly YouTube feature called “Some Good News.” In it, he highlights the good things that are happening in our world, like random acts of kindness, cheering for health-care heroes, and touching stories of love. This 20-minute lighthearted segment is encouraging millions of people around the world who are famished to hear something positive.
What would happen if you were known by your friends and family during this time for bringing encouragement, fun, and hope into the doldrums and depression of COVID-19? Again, start small.
Pick three people you either live with or interact with regularly and make it a secret project between you and the Lord to say something life-giving to them every day. It can be a text, a compliment, a word of encouragement, or even just saying, “I really appreciate _____ about you.” The very practice of saying something positive will not only encourage the other person, but will also help you to focus on the good instead of the frustrations.
If the water in your house became contaminated, the solution probably would not be to change the faucet or even apply a filter. You would have to find the source that is spoiling the fresh water. The same is true with our tongues.
You will never tame your tongue through self-control. As Jesus said, every wicked thing flows from the heart. Any victory I’ve experienced with my tongue has come through the work God is doing in my heart. Gossip comes from my pride and jealousy. Words of anger come from my desire to be in control. Complaining and negativity flow from my ingratitude.
Will you pray this simple prayer every day? Lord, please show me the source of my words.
James’ letter to the early church is a practical guide to honoring God with our daily lives. The tongue is a great way to start. And there’s no better time than … Groundhog Day!
You may also find the following resources helpful:
COVID-19 Marriage Survival Guide (blog)
Don't Waste The Pain (blog)
Java with Juli #127: Learning How to Apologize in Relationships
The Very Important Difference Between Conflict and Fighting (blog)