I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve said something and then heard my 25-year-old son say, “Filter, Mom!” In truth, remembering to filter what goes on in my head before it comes out of my mouth has always been a struggle for me. I tend to speak much more than I should in some situations and then not say enough in others. Often I’ve missed the blessing of hearing what others are saying in both instances.
However, besides the obvious fact that I miss things, what is the ultimate responsibility I have in my words? Are there consequences far greater than what I may or may not miss?
The truth, of course, is yes. As believers, we know that God’s Word is very explicit when it comes to the importance in how much we say and when:
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19)
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)
As I see it, we struggle from both aspects of using our tongues to uplift and edify those around us. Either we are so busy talking and saying what we think that we don’t measure our words against the situation into which we are thrusting them, or we aren’t saying enough, instead protecting ourselves or our feelings from the inevitable threat of pain in exposing some part of us.
It is vitally important that each of us look at this issue, not only as it pertains to our relationship to our Father, but also how it pertains to the issue of our relationships with each other. After all, Jesus plainly told His disciples in John 13:35,
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Yes, we are to display love toward others, but love cannot be trusted if it is not first given in the family, both the immediate family as well as the church family. It’s very difficult, dare I say impossible, to love our families if we don’t have relationship with them. Learning to use our words will go a long way to facilitating those relationships and thereby give us ample opportunity to show love.
Relationship requires pretty much one thing—taking one’s self out of center and being willing to place someone else there. Sometimes that is going to mean putting a muzzle on our mouths, recognizing that saying everything we think is neither loving nor wise. Even if what we are thinking is correct or valid, love takes the other person’s feelings into account. Speaking our minds is often the most loving thing to do, but just as often, keeping our thoughts to ourselves is the best way to show love to another.
On the flip side of that coin, we many times are in protection mode when it comes to communicating. Having conversation with another person in regards to feelings and accountability requires vulnerability, which consequently means taking the chance that our own feelings may be hurt. It’s not easy to communicate when we may have to sacrifice the protective barrier so many of us have painstakingly erected around our hearts.
Additionally, sometimes we don’t communicate simply because we don’t think to do so. We’re too busy, or we’re too devoted to our jobs or our studies. The truth is that when we fail to build relationship with those we are supposed to care about because we are too busy with anything, then what we are really preoccupied with is self. Essentially our “busy-ness” is being consumed with self.
We can come up with all sorts of justification for keeping our words to ourselves, but at the end of the day, relationship is nigh impossible without it. Marriages collapse because of a lack of communication. Parent/child relationships are non-existent because one or more aren’t talking. Churches split and friendships are severed when no one communicates. Even corporations have dissolved when executives don’t communicate with their employees or vice versa.
Relationship requires communication, and communication requires more than two people who are essentially taking turns talking. James wrote,
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.
Relationship also requires commitment, commitment to another person and that person’s needs outside of what we perceive as either ours or something more important. Would Jesus have ever seen Himself as too busy to communicate with those in His family? One situation in particular comes to mind that demonstrates our Savior’s propensity toward relationship over even ministry and His job, for lack of a better term.
Remember when Jesus was teaching His disciples and the ruler came and bid Him come and bring his daughter back from the dead? Jesus was on His way to raise this dead girl back to life—a fairly important task by any standard. But when a woman touched His garment who had suffered for twelve years with hemorrhaging, He stopped everything to speak to her. (Matthew 9:18-22)
Even His mission to save and heal and bring life to the dead could not thwart His devotion to relationship with His children.
If our Savior sees relationship as this important, and communication within relationship as vital, shouldn't we do the same?
Are there people in your life to whom you haven’t selflessly given loving communication? Is it a spouse or a child or a friend or a fellow brother or sister? Take the words of the psalmist to heart and meditate on them:
-When you are struggling with saying too much:
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Proverbs 17:27)
-And when you are struggling to remember to say something:
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. (Proverbs 12:25)
After all, how can we say we love our family if we don’t know them, and how can we know them if we don’t both talk and listen to them?