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. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. 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. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. James 3:2-10
Not being able to speak easily, clearly, or without getting totally out of breath and depleted of energy with this post jaw surgery splint banded into my mouth, is making me really think about how and why I use words. Last night at dinner, my dad shared the most wonderful poem and I miss the ability to share those well written words of others. Words were also used to relay events from the day and the weekend, like Chad almost beating his soccer juggling record until the wet ground caused a fall and Martha Jane reporting the sighting we had at the end of our walk on Saturday of two hawks sitting together on a high tree branch. These are all precious moments that I long to engage in with others.
But then I thought, strange as it is for an extrovert like me, of the permission not to talk and what rest that might bring. Talking does have a certain judgment ingrained in it, not just in the most dramatic ways as described by James, but relationally and socially too. Did my responsive words relay I was listening attentively, not just to the content but to the emotional significance behind the content for the one sharing? Were my words edifying, productive, valuable, insightful and wise? Did my words make me seem intelligent, self-aware, empathetic, funny, cool, likeable, witty, personable, and socially competent? Did I say the wrong thing? Did they hear what I said and think I meant something else less edifying? Did I not realize that what I said revealed my classism, racism, ignorance, arrogance, cruelty, snobbery, superiority, or utter disinterest? My assessment of my words can be so much about me and that is exhausting.
And worse are the words I use with my children. I confuse my responsibility to "train up a child in the way he/she should go" with creating images of the way I want them to perform. It varies from child to child, but more of my words are corrective than congratulatory, chastising rather than cherishing, attempting to perfect rather than protect, about me rather than attuned to them.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32
What if, since it exhausts me so much anyway, the effort of my words could be devoted to "building others up according to their needs," not mine. What if my words could become predominantly characterized by kindness and compassion, becoming helpful and beneficial to those who listen rather than my worrying so much what they communicate about me, my identity, and my will?
James was correct when he said that "no human being can tame the tongue" and yet his command that we do so was not contradictory. My hope is not in staying silent forever nor in mastering my words for perfect speech righteousness. My hope is that because I am hidden in the person and work of Jesus, His words can heal where mine have hurt, His words bring life even where there has been loss, His words are powerful and effective and trustworthy and true. I do not stand on the merits of my tamed tongue but firmly on His, which is taming mine now even if not fully yet.