“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” That’s Psalm 141:3, and I’ve been praying it a lot lately, as I’ve been struggling with letting my emotions control my tongue rather than the Spirit of God.
Do you ever struggle with saying something you shouldn’t to someone out of anger or frustration?
In the heat of the moment, there are times when I say something ugly or unkind and end up hurting someone I love. Often when this happens, what I say “in the moment” isn’t even what I mean. The words just spew from my mouth and the thick venom from my anger bites those around me. It’s ugly and hurtful, not at all befitting a Spirit-led woman.
Years ago, when my oldest son, Austen, was a little boy, my husband and I wanted to teach him a lesson about unkind words and their impact on those around him. We gave him a paper plate, a tube of toothpaste, and instructions to squeeze as much toothpaste as he wanted from the tube over a period of 30 seconds.
He had so much fun with this activity and thought he was “the man” when by the end of the 30 seconds ALL of the toothpaste was gone from the tube.
But here’s what happened next.
Alex laid a twenty-dollar bill on the table and told Austen that if he could put all the toothpaste back into the tube that he squeezed out, he could have the money. For fifteen minutes Austen tried his best to get that toothpaste back in that tube, with no success. Then came the teaching moment.
Alex and I explained to him that just like he couldn’t get the toothpaste back into a tube, once his words are out of his mouth, he couldn’t take them back. The impact words have on others is permanent. Once spoken, the words are out and there can be no turning back.
He looked at us perplexed, wondering what to do with the toothpaste on the plate and what to do with words that should have been kept in but instead spilled out.
The toothpaste, we told him, was easy. You just through it in the trash. Words … not so easy. Words can build up and words can tear down, which is why we need to guard our words. We need to ask the Lord to “keep watch over the door of our lips.” We need to pray and ask the Lord to daily help us speak from a heart of love, not anger.
But what about when we speak those harsh words anyway? What should we do when venom, rather than love strikes at those around us?
Well, the first thing we must do is ask God to forgive us for our sin—because speaking out of anger is a sin. Then, we need to reflect on why we said those ugly things in the first place. We must examine our hearts and get to the root of the problem. Then, we must go to the person we said the harsh words to, tell them we are sorry, and ask for forgiveness.
A text won’t do it—in fact, that’s a cop out. A phone call isn’t even the best way in this instance, though if that is the only alternative, it will do. A hand-written note or letter is not the best option either. In person—face to face—is the most effective and genuine way. Yes, face to face will be uncomfortable for you. Face to face will cause you pain and uncertainty. You will have to be vulnerable and open yourself up to criticism. But think about it, venomous words are painful and uncomfortable as well. Venomous words bite and pinch and destroy.
Hopefully, once you have apologized and asked for forgiveness, the person you hurt will graciously accept and extend forgiveness. If not, you can rest in the fact that you have done the right thing by going to the person you have hurt. You can rest in the fact that because you have confessed and repented your sin to God, you are forgiven. Then you can try your best to mend the broken relationship and heal the wound that occurred but that will most likely take time.
This is why I’ve been praying Psalm 141:3. I need the Lord to guard my words and imprison the hurtful words that strike and sting and only allow life words, kind words, encouraging words, healing words to flow from my lips.
Yes, we all make mistakes; we are human. Yes, there will be days when our words hurt rather than heal. My prayer, though, is that the venomous words that hurt will be scarce, and the words of life and love that heal, plentiful.