My struggle with my speech
The chilling thing about the destructive power of words is that our insults are typically uttered in the heat of the moment or in a casual manner, in which we often fail to pick up the repercussions of our negative speech, especially in an age where people are adept at masking their real emotions.
I don’t consider myself to be a crude person, but when I was younger, I tended to be quick with my words. I would often air my mind freely, making jokes out of others, and offering opinions even when it wasn’t warranted. Be it in a classroom setting or in a cell group, I’d ensure that my perspectives were heard, at times leaving little room for others to speak up. Other times, I’d get such a kick out of making snarky remarks or rude jokes, without understanding how hurtful it can be for the receiving party.
A couple of years ago, as I came before the Lord, I boldly asked of Him to deal with any area of my heart that needed to be cleansed. I was not expecting my prayer to be answered so quickly: The Lord nudged my heart, telling me of the need to cleanse my lips.
This started my journey of discovering how nasty I can be at times with my words. I learnt to intentionally incline my ears to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to intervene into moments where negative words were about to be spewed from my lips. It felt as if a spiritual sensor had been placed on my lips, and every time my brain would process an unnecessary joke or nasty comment, the Holy Spirit would lay these two questions upon my heart:
1. Is what I’m about to say, edifying?
2. Am I saying this out of sin?
A father’s words to a son are some of the most powerful ones, especially in his younger days. A boy constantly hearing the words “You are good for nothing” or “I’m proud of you, son” will set his life into two different trajectories.
A friendship that is suffering can either be broken or mended depending on what is said — an ignorant “I don’t care” or a persistent “I’m still with you.”
It is incredible to think how many verses there are in the bible that touch on our speech, especially in James 3 and the entire book of Proverbs. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” With God’s constant reminders in the Word of us needing to speak with wisdom and to be slow to speak, we must grapple with the fact that there is gravity attached to each and every word that leaves our lips.
There are two vivid instances that come to my mind when I contemplate on my wrestling with striving to speak with edification.
A few years ago, I was dining at an Italian restaurant with a group of friends, and one particular person did not like seafood. As we were discussing which pizzas on the menu to order, I candidly shrugged off my friend’s dietary requirement with a laugh and said, “Aiyah, don’t care about about him lah, let’s just order the seafood pizza.” The evening went on splendidly, until I found out that the friend was rather hurt by what I had said.
Another incident took place when I was Secondary Four. My mother had picked me up from school and reminded me to help out with house chores. In the spur of the moment, I gave in to my tiredness and agitation (from her nagging), I exclaimed to her, “But that’s your job”. As tears welled up in her eyes, it struck me that my words cannot be taken back, and regret started to fill my heart. My laziness and selfishness had torn my mum’s heart apart, and it still serves as a reminder today to speak with gentleness and caution.
As simple as these scenarios may be, my words were hurtful and uncalled for. I was selfish and proud with my words, whereby I had valued my preferences over other’s.
The Heart of Speech
Over the years, I have caught a better glimpse of how our words are a reflection of who we are and what we value. Every word that proceeds from our mouth reveals our character, and even sin. Every unkind and unedifying word stems from our own ugliness within — whether pride, bitterness, unforgiveness, or jealousy.
Phrases that I’ve grown to omit from my life are: “You mean you don’t know?” (because it comes from a place of pride) and “shut up lah” (as I am simply telling someone that I don’t care about what the person is about to say). I’m also trying to avoid making jokes that put people down and simply ending it off with “just joking” (Proverbs 26:18-19).
Each time we speak, we pick up a knife — we can either use it to stab or sharpen someone, even in how we speak to ourselves. My speech is still a work-in-progress, and the kindness of the Lord has always led me to repentance in this area of my life. I long to live a life that edifies and builds up those around me, and this means that sometimes it is better to say nothing at all, rather than to speak loosely with foolishness. Our speech, like the knife, is meant to be handled with care.
We are all our own harshest critic, and this surely means that we all could do with a bit more encouragement. May we truly exemplify love with our words — continually calling out the best in those around us, and learning to pull back our tongue from malice.
“When words are many, sin is not absent.
But he who holds his tongue is wise.”
(Proverbs 10:19, NIV)