When I was in 6th grade, my mom made my sisters and me memorize the book of James as part of our homeschooling curriculum. Every morning, we recited the words, adding on a new verse every couple of days. I remember that it was a tedious process, and something I usually didn't enjoy. Fast forward to today. While I only have vague memories of the other things I learned that year, I can still recite most of James word for word. It's a good thing, because those verses from James are ones of which I need to be reminded daily.
"All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water." James 3:7-12 (NIV)
There are some women who are born soft-spoken and gentle. Gracious words come naturally. They are not perfect, of course, but harsh words aren't their weakness.
I'm not one of those women.
From an early age, my parents warned me about my unbridled tongue. They tried to correct and instruct me when I lost my temper and said hurtful, angry things. As I grew older, I tried to rein in this sinful tendency, because I saw how it wounded and alienated those I love.
Becoming a wife and then a mother really highlighted the sin of harshness and untamed tongue in my life. I've said angry words to my husband that I wish I could take back, and I've lost my cool and spoken harshly to my toddler more often than I'd like to admit.
James speaks the truth. No human being can tame the tongue. I know because I've tried.
When I rely on my own strength to speak graciously, I always end up failing. As James says, a fig tree cannot bear olives, nor a grapevine bear figs. I cannot speak words that are not within me. I cannot be gentle if there is harshness inside.
Taming the tongue begins with surrendering the heart.
For me to speak words that build up, I must first allow God to do a work tearing down that which is displeasing within me. He must reach the source of those words--the anger and pride--and replace them with love and humility.
One of the main ways He does this is through His Word. We cannot expect truth to pour from our lips if it is not in our hearts and minds first. As Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." If we want to speak lovingly to our children, we must seek the God who lovingly sought us first.
As moms, our words and the way we say them set the tone for the day in our home. They are also the foundation on which we build our children's understanding of God, the Gospel, and marriage. If we tell them that God is patient, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love, but then we lash out with impatient, hurtful words, our children may not believe us. Our words and tone matter.
So let's go to God, the One whose Word is truth, to give us grace to speak as He does to our families. I can attest that He is faithful.