Winter with its chill waits in the wings to take the stage and dazzle us. Most of us will dwell in crowded closeness with others during the coming weeks. Mix in holiday gatherings, and the layer of spoken words scattered around our homes grows deep.
Words spoken at the wrong time or loaded with the wrong message are not easily erased. The “sticks and stones” poem may bring temporary comfort to a child, but the injuries of cruel words rarely heal completely.
The December rush is a great time to remind ourselves of the power in our words. Choosing a gift for one we love takes time and patience (unless they have delivered an Amazon gift list!). Perhaps we would do well to invest that same consideration before we speak.
Much of the Old Testament book of Proverbs was compiled by Solomon, a man who lived with 700 wives and 300 concubines. Imagine all the words reverberating about the palace! As I considered Solomon’s situation I concluded he was in a unique position to enlighten us about spoken words. Here are some important word types to sprinkle in our speech.
If I connect the wrong wires exciting but dangerous things happen. I was tagged “Sparky” by a coworker long ago. Such a nickname sticks with a man, even if it was assigned unfairly! I depend on electricity but exercise caution when using it.
Solomon believed the same care must extend to our speech. Prudence in speaking eliminates a host of potential struggles.
He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles.
Proverbs 21:23 NASB
The word guard can mean beware or take heed. The writer understood the damaging potential of his words and determined to deploy his words with caution. King David, Solomon’s father, shared an insightful prayer requesting God’s help in the verbal arena.
Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.
Psalm 141:3 NASB
That’s the solution!
I have a knack for opening my mouth with purest intentions, but the words that escape my brain or the inflection in my voice ignites Word War III. If I had a dollar for every time I (1) wished I had kept my mouth shut, or (2) yearned to retrieve freshly-spoken words, I would be shopping for tools to add to my shop.
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Proverbs 29:20 NASB
Our culture presses us to multitask, to use every second to its fullest. Instant answers to complex questions are expected. Push back. Adopt a different approach, “Your question is weighty, and I value your friendship. Let me consider my answer for a time.”
For best results our words should be few, well-chosen, and delivered at a pace that promotes peace. The emotion of anger seems to disable my built-in speech governor and thoughts morph into strings of hurtful words I would never use in a calm moment. Perhaps that is the time for me to practice the art of silence. If muteness is not an option then I must slow the verbiage to give time for my brain to perform quality control.
He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Proverbs 17:27 NASB
I am not a horse-person but have joined my family for vacation rides. My last outing, on a horse named Buck, was a memorable afternoon. He was a flatulent, asthmatic creature who took every opportunity to stray from the trail. His top speed was slower than my walking pace. Cresting a hill Buck had a view of the valley and the barn beyond the woods. He hit the afterburners, and I scrambled to stay in the saddle as that ancient beast was reborn. Who knew he possessed such drive? Buck measured his steps to save energy for the mad dash to the stable.
Words, carefully measured, hold great potential.
Here’s a gem I recite often.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1 NASB
Next time your loved one is red-faced from screaming determine not to be drawn into the quagmire of anger. Speak calmly, just above the whisper level. Let us know the results.
Gentle words are tender and delicate. They defuse explosive interchanges. I’ve watched Shawn bandage a lot of booboos. She inflicts only the pain necessary to remove the dirt as she cleans and dresses the wound. Rubbing the cut with sandpaper or slicing deeper would contribute little to resolution and would only serve to make me squeal at a higher volume.
Harsh words launched in a heated moment increase the pain, spread the inflammation, and delay resolution.
We can make a difference for our listeners.
Some speakers chatter endlessly simply to hear their own voices. Those are usually words without purpose for the listener.
Others pause while speaking to gather feedback. It may come as an inflection in a response, some display of body language, or a deeper level of sharing. As we sense the conversation has strummed a responsive chord we can touch the listener’s heart with wisely chosen words.
Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances.
Insincere flattery is nauseating, but loving words that deliver what the listener needs at the moment are pleasant to the ears. Weary souls are encouraged by the graceful words of a caring friend. Consider the listener’s need and choose words wisely.
The wise in heart will be called understanding, And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
Proverbs 16:21 NASB
As we enjoy the holiday sweets why not let those be our reminder to check our speech.
Are our words tasty enough that our listeners return for seconds?