Have you ever been around someone who seems to always be complaining or looking at life from a negative point of view? No matter how hard you might try to encourage or be there for that person, they refuse to see the positive side of anything or believe that their situation will get better? Maybe someone who refuses to give others the benefit of the doubt, always assuming the worst of others? Or perhaps you have been on the receiving end of some scathing words from someone else? Words that were spewed at you months, possibly even years ago, that still sting and hurt as deeply today as they did when you originally heard them? These kinds of words can play over and over again like a broken record in our minds, reminding us of past failures or shortcomings and really affecting how we view ourselves and leaving deep scars on our hearts. Perhaps you have just fallen – or maybe even been guilty of jumping – into the trap of “harmless” banter with friends that always, for whatever reason, seems to head south in the way it berates others, or refuses to look for the good, redeeming qualities in a person or situation? It comes in a variety of forms: criticism, gossip, slander, negative talk, complaining, arguing, and the list goes on and on. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 18:21 “The tongue has the power of life and death,and those who love it will eat its fruit.” How can such a small organ in our body carry such power? If this is true, shouldn’t we be more careful and diligent with the words we speak? We have all been guilty of this at one time or another. Some of us struggle in this area more than others, but the truth is, we could all probably take inventory of our speech habits from time to time and give our mouths a tune up. Sometimes we might find ourselves in the middle of one of these situations before we even realize what is happening. What starts out as seemingly innocent “chatter”, “girl talk”, or “therapy sessions” with friends can end up turning into husband bashing or seedy gossip if we aren’t careful.
I have a close friend whom I love dearly. She really has no idea how much deep love and respect I have for her. I need to fix that ;). This friend has seen her share of marital challenges, as anyone who has ever been married for any length of time has. Marriage can have some difficult seasons. That’s just life. It has been a joy, as her friend, to watch as she and her husband have stuck together in the face of huge obstacles at times and committed themselves to making their marriage work. One thing I have always noticed about this friend is that she never, ever speaks ill of her husband. Ever. I really admire that. Does that mean she doesn’t ever have negative feelings or that their marriage and life is perfect? Absolutely not. We all know better. It means that she has made a conscious decision to not give life to those feelings by speaking them out loud to any and everyone who will listen. I’m sure that fosters a lot of mutual respect between them as a couple. It really has been an inspiration to me, as I am recently remarried. I am trying to be on purpose in this area and make that my mission as well. I don’t ever want my husband to have to wonder if I am running him down or discussing him in negative ways with my friends. Proverbs 31:10-12 describes the virtuous wife as one who brings her husband “good, not harm, all the days of her life.” I wonder how our relationships and our perceptions of our problems would change for the better if we took on this challenge in our speech about others?
Does this mean we cannot have friends in whom we can confide when things aren’t going so well and we need a little support, insight, understanding and encouragement? Of course not. One of God’s biggest blessings in life are good, solid friendships. I do think we should be careful who we confide in, though. Will that person encourage us, or fuel the fire, causing us to only focus on what is negative? And as much as we need to be mindful of who we confide in, we also need to consider how what we are sharing and the manner in which we are sharing it will affect our listener? What is the purpose? To commiserate, or to seek guidance with a goal of encouragement and restoration of relationships? We shouldn’t feel we have the liberty to vent every single piece of our “dirty laundry” and things that need fixing in our relationships (which usually ends up sounding like a laundry list of things the other person needs to do or change) with others. It can have an impact on the way they view their own situations in life and it only exacerbates our own. Have you ever heard the saying, “The more you talk about something, the bigger it gets.”? We should try to make it our habit to verbally feed those things we want to grow (positive qualities in others, etc) and starve that which is negative (everything that gets on our nerves or makes us feel wronged by someone else). I believe words affect our thoughts and attitudes more than we realize. I have learned this the hard way more than one time in my life. If our words really do have the potential to become self-fulfilling prophesies, should we not seek to speak that which is edifying? Please know I am speaking not from a place of self-righteousness, but as someone who wishes she had done things differently in certain situations in her life. I realize the life giving/destructive effect my own words have had in the lives of others. Thank goodness for God’s forgiveness and for forgiveness of those I’ve hurt with my words. There are a few times that my own words have caused irreparable damage. That is something I have to live with. It is a consequence of a choice I made, and if I had it to do over again, I would have spoken differently.
Ephesians 4:29 tells us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for BUILDING OTHERS UP ACCORDING TO THEIR NEEDS that it may benefit those who listen.” Maybe if we started to ask ourselves “is what I am about to say going to build this person up……according to THEIR needs (not my need to be right, to vent, complain, defend myself, etc)” we could save ourselves – and others – a lot of heartache and trouble. That is one way we can truly consider others more important than ourselves, when we consider their needs more important than our own. How is what I am about to say going to benefit the listener? This is also good to think about when we consider what kind of advice we give to others who are seeking wisdom from us. Is the advice I am giving to my friend, as she shares her heart with me, advice that is for her good, the good of her family, and does it honor God? What a blessing and an awesome feeling to be able to help and encourage the friends we hold so dear to our hearts with positive words! “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24 Those are the kinds of words that I want to be known for speaking into the lives of others, whether it be my husband and children, my family, my friends, or my students.
On those days (and they will come) when we can’t find anything good to say, may we not say anything at all. Let’s ask God to “Set a guard over my mouth and keep watch over the door to my lips.” Psalm 141:3. We can always take our unedited thoughts, concerns, issues and feelings to God. Yes, even the negative ones. He already knows it all anyway. And guess what? He can handle it. And in regard to our words with our friends, may we make our prayer that of Psalm 19:14, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.”