Be kinder to yourself.
And then let your kindness flood the world.
And then let your kindness flood the world.
..Remember the old saying... “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words will never hurt me!” It was a great come back when you were being bullied in grade school, but the truth is words can be very damaging. Words can deceive, divide, put up a front, start wars, and even lead to death.
Lately I’ve been reflecting a lot on my words, and also on how I say them. I’ve found that in my case HOW I've said things has done more damage than what was said. This recent consideration of my words came about during a quiet time where I was praying about my relationships. The past 4 months or so have felt especially lonely and I started to question why I felt so distant from my friends, why I couldn’t feel close to anyone, why I was paying so much for monthly cellular service when I barely speak to anyone, and what was it about me that kept me (or kept me feeling) so isolated? What I am doing wrong? Was it something I said?
Not long after that quiet time, I came to Proverbs 10 in a devotional I have been doing for a few weeks now. There are several verses in the chapter that convicted me and prompted me to consider that how I say things to people could be affecting my relationships with them.
The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain;
the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.
Hatred stirs up quarrels,
but love makes up for all offenses.
Wise words come from the lips of people with understanding,
but those lacking sense will be beaten with a rod.
Wise people treasure knowledge,
but the babbling of a fool invites disaster.
-Proverbs 10:11-14 NLT
Too much talk leads to sin.
Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.
The words of the godly are like sterling silver;
the heart of a fool is worthless.
The words of the godly encourage many,
but fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense.
-Proverbs 10:19-21 NLT
The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice,
but the tongue that deceives will be cut off.
The lips of the godly speak helpful words,
but the mouth of the wicked speaks perverse words.
-Proverbs 10:31-32 NLT
I began to reflect on specific relationships and conversations, and I was struck with guilt as I realized that what I said, and how I said it could have affected my rapport with those people, and ultimately the trajectory of our relationships. I went back to God in a prayer of repentance, and for help with my heart, since in Matthew 15:18-19 Jesus said, “...the words you speak come from the heart--that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” And during that quiet time and reflection the Holy Spirit showed me just how words can hurt and HOW something's said is so important. Through this I was comforted though, because although I speak from a human heart, what lie in my heart is not always evil, since Christ has come into my heart. But the lack of mindfulness of another person’s heart can cause my words to produce 2 types of hurt.
SCORN and RESENTMENT
I hate to admit this, but it's my belief and prayer that my confession will lead to change. My lack of mindfulness has made me very skilled at stirring up feelings of scorn and resentment in others toward me. Specifically, when offering criticism or correction, I have been successful at causing others to have negative feelings toward me--even if we had subsequent positive encounters after the offense happened. I’ve seen this the most in my classroom of three years where I taught high school juniors--who were well on their way to young adulthood and so certain of who they were. Some of the relationships I was able to salvage, but some still give me a lot of guilt.
I’ve also seen some of the young adults I taught become convicted when my approach at criticism and correction was different. In these cases the hurt they felt was not a negative emotion toward me--but an extreme guilt and remorse for their own shortcomings.
So what’s the difference? How can I keep it 100 with people without pushing them away and without them missing the point of what I intended to express?
After praying about it repeatedly and studying the various scriptures about our words and interactions with each other, I am employing the the following steps to ensure my words are like a life-giving fountain.
1. Check your heart
What Jesus said to his disciples was for me and you too. My words come from my heart, so before I endeavor to keep it real with anyone--I need to ask God to keep it real with me and show me those things in my heart that I need to submit to Him. I can’t sincerely give wise advice or speak helpful words if my heart is hiding evil thoughts, impure thoughts, jealousy/envy, or slander toward anyone.
2. Be mindful of others
Have you ever considered giving advice to someone and didn’t because you knew how they would react? I have. Or have you offered your opinion to someone--swearing up and down that you were right and that they should, and would be thankful for you speaking up--but they weren’t? I have too. Instead of judging someone because of a previous situation, or being overly confident, I am working on being mindful that someone may not receive something the way I would, or the way I think they should. I’m reminding myself that I don’t know what’s in their heart! I’ll pray about the conversation beforehand, and understand that it may not go how I imagine.
3. Watch HOW you say things
I mentioned the different outcomes that came from giving the same criticism differently to teenagers-- and it’s the same for everyone. If we start with mindfulness of our own hearts, then the reality that only God knows the hearts of others, our approach will be different. I’ll be honest though--even after considering myself and others the approach is still a difficult thing for me. I want to change. I want my words to be like honey--to heal and encourage--even when I’m correcting or holding someone accountable. I want my words to point to Christ... But HOW?! I asked God over and over…
Then He reminded me of a part of a song I used to sing at the Catholic church I attended growing up…
They’ll know we are Christians
By our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love
I knew that this song (as were many from the hymnal used by the Catholic church) was derived from scripture so I looked up ‘by our love’. As you can imagine, the results included a host of verses about love, but the one that answered my HOW question comes from 2 Corinthians chapter 6.
We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love.
(verse 6 NLT)
Sincere love is the key ingredient--not only in the way we speak to each other--but in everything we do! It's the HOW to every thing we seek to do as disciples of Christ.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for desiring a relationship with me. Thank you for correcting me, teaching me, and redirecting me through your Word. Help me to live in a way that does not cause others to stumble, and let no one find fault in my ministry. Help me to show that I am a true minister of God. Help me to prove myself through my purity, understanding, patience, and kindness. Let my words reflect my sincere love for you and your Word. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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