“I wish I never would have said that.”
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve spoken these specific words. I think them often – wishing that I could go back in time and take back all of the hurtful things that I’ve ever said. But words are so incredibly permanent, aren’t they? I know that I will never be able to wholly mend the negative effect and lasting impression that they have had on the people that I love.
Isn’t it true that the “big” problems we experience in a relationship are rarely the primary cause of destruction? Instead, it’s the build up of the little things that slowly eat away at us. I believe that, more often than not, it can be the very simple words, said aloud in the wrong tone, at the wrong time or with the wrong heart, that will begin to rot a relationship at the core.
This includes words that are said to our spouse in the heat of the moment. To our kids when both chaos and frustrations are at their peak. To friends when gossip or bitterness come to the light. To parents or siblings in moments of irritation. You may have already had one of these moments this morning; they happen much too frequently, don’t they?
How often have you regretted the words that you let flow from your mouth, realizing that you never paused to think?
Words are powerful. There is no marriage, friendship or family relationship that isn’t either made stronger or made weaker by the words that you speak every single day.
“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire … It corrupts the whole person and sets the whole course of his life on fire” (James 3:5-6).
Your words give you the power to give hope and the power to hurt. The power to build up and the power to tear down. The power to fill a relationship with life or bring it to complete ruin.
We will all find ourselves in moments when we just want to explode. Seasons when we just feel ourselves nagging continuously because nothing is being done like we asked. Days when we are extremely busy, overwhelmed and feeling taken advantage of.
But I want to remind you that in these moments, you are seen. You are cherished. You are loved. And because you are loved by a God so much greater than we can fathom, it allows us to love much, even when we are worn out and don’t feel like doing so.
When my husband and I are in an argument, it’s not often that we raise our voices at one another (although sometimes I really feel like that might actually be better.)
Instead, we unashamedly make cutting and passive remarks. We will subtly attack one another’s character. We bring up weaknesses and faults – often ones that, in prior moments, had brought us closer as we prayed together for our hearts to be changed. There have been so many beautiful, glorifying moments such as these that were corrupted by our uncontrolled tongues and a selfish longing to be “right”. It’s ugly and sinful and awful.
I have been so broken by this lately. Broken for the words that I carelessly allow to slip. Broken for the exhausting desire to maintain my pride. Broken as I reveal the true state of my heart when just a few buttons are pushed.
Am I alone in this?
Why can’t we realize that we have the choice and opportunity every single day to breathe life into our relationships, no matter how damaged they may seem?
Dear friends, it only takes a few words!
1. Practice being slow to speak.
This requires daily, intentional effort and a lot of self-control. When your toddler is throwing the tenth fit of the day and all you want to do is throw one right back and yell at them about your displeasure and disappointment, pause.
Remember that, no matter what age, they need your listening ear, support and guidance. Yes, discipline is necessary. But I promise that even the most beneficial words said to your little one (or even your teenager) accompanied by an angry tone at the wrong time will fall upon deaf ears. Speak with grace and remind your kids that, although there are consequences for disobedience, they are tremendously loved and cherished.
2. When you fail, which you will, ask for forgiveness without hesitation.
I regularly joke with my husband that I’m always the first to say sorry. He laughs and says that he apologizes “in his head” first ;-). All joking aside, we both work really hard to ensure that we don’t hold a record of wrongs. Divorce is not a word that we say in our home, no matter how drastic the disagreement. We have made a vow before God and therefore we don’t have, and don’t want, the option of giving up on our marriage. So why would we choose to remain stagnant in a place of misery or discomfort? Instead, we must choose to move forward from our disagreements as quickly as possible, which means asking for forgiveness even when we don’t want to and even if we think we’re right and choosing to rationally talk things out with a heart of understanding.
A lasting marriage (and any healthy relationship) is made up of two very good apologizers and two great forgivers.
When necessary, lead the way. Marriage is so much more fun when you choose to enjoy it.
3. Make a decision every day to be an encourager, not a criticizer.
Sometimes we need to take a step back from all of our opinions and constructive criticism for a season and just focus on affirming, encouraging and reassuring. Isn’t it true that we tend to be skilled at seeing, and voicing, the faults in others? Yet how often do we intentionally compliment the positive and praiseworthy characteristics that we see in our spouses, children and friends?
Here is a small challenge for the next week: In the moments when you find it difficult to muster up even one positive thing in the midst of a frustrating or stressful situation, find it, and say it anyway. Hold your tongue, choose kindness over anger and share a compliment instead of a criticism.
I strongly believe that, in the future, you will find that your constructive words will likely be received much better when you are known for being a person who encourages, rather than one who criticizes.
4. Before you speak, ask yourself this:
Is it Kind? Is it Necessary? Is it True?
In order for us to ask ourselves these questions, it’s often important for us to step back and take a few minutes away. In the midst of rampant emotions, it is physically impossible to think logically. Make an agreement beforehand between you, your kids (to a point that they understand) and your spouse, that you will all allow yourselves to have alone time and calm down before words are said so as to prevent any pushing or prodding in heated moments. As the dust settles and we allow these three questions to be the gatekeepers of our words, we will then be actively displaying the unconditional love that we’re called to have.
Let us pray today to open our ears and close our mouths. Having a thankful heart and attitude towards our family is one of the most effective means of bringing life to our relationships. When we are thankful, we will be quick to praise the people in our family, building them up with our words, rather than tearing them down.
“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Psalm 16:24
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