5 Things You Need To Know About Taming the Tongue
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)
I almost didn’t write this post because I like to write about topics where I’ve gained some traction, where I can look back and see a significant transformation.
But when it comes to the topic of “taming my tongue” – speaking words that give life, not death, and thoughtfully curating what I let escape from my mouth – I’m afraid my progress looks more like a stock market chart on a bad year than a steady upward climb. Up, then down, then up a little more, then way down.
But this was the story God kept pressing me to share.
So I know that even though I’m still in the messy middle of it, God will use my journey and His word to point you to Jesus.
I am a People-Pleaser
I’ve shared with you before about how I’m a recovering people-pleaser. This means among other things that when I’m around people outside of my immediate family I’m constantly sending feelers out, sometimes I don’t even realize it, to gauge how others are responding to me so I can adjust accordingly. I’m acutely aware of anything I might say that could be offensive, taken the wrong way, or hurtful.
But then I go home.
My family sees a very different side of me. I’m not Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or anything, but it’s like all the energy it took to be “nice” leaves me with no discipline left in my interactions with my family. Or maybe it’s just that I’m comfortable with them… and they’re stuck with me.
Whatever the case, I struggle mightily with taming my tongue.
Because this is an issue that is only a struggle when I’m not on display, I have been convicted that this is an issue of integrity.
Can I confess to you that there have been times when I’ve been talking to (yelling at) my kids, only to find that I’d pocket dialed someone, and was mortified at the thought that they might have heard me at my worst? Never mind that three of the people I care about most in this world had just heard me at my worst.
Or that there are times when I get angry with myself (or an inanimate object) and think I’m alone and mutter something under my breath that I would never want my kids to hear, only to see little eyes looking at me from the doorway.
3 Struggles I Have When It Comes To Taming The Tongue
I’d say my struggles with taming my tongue fall into three main categories:
- Responding to my kids’ mistakes or disobedience too quickly with a raised voice and shaming them rather than teaching them or (quietly) implementing consistent discipline.
- Using words when I’m frustrated (and think I’m alone) that I would not want to hear my kids repeat.
- Using “martyr” language like “I’m the only one around here who…” or “Do you realize how hard I worked to…” that I always told myself I wouldn’t use with my family.
I’m sure there are others, but these are the big three that God has placed on my heart so painfully and lovingly. I’ve seen traces of these things come and go in the past, but with all three kids schooling from home unexpectedly this year, my stress levels have been higher than normal and in some twisted way I think letting loose verbally is a form of rebellion or vice that makes me feel like I’m more in control than I am. At least for the moment.
Isn’t it ironic that the enemy would use a tactic like making me think I’m more in control by releasing control to my sinful nature? But so typical.
So although I’m still battling mightily in this area, I do believe God has given me some insights into the struggle. I want to share a few things I’m learning in my journey of taming my tongue.
5 Things I’m Learning About Taming My Tongue
1. What comes out of my mouth isn’t the main problem.
You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.Matthew 12:34 (NIV)
My first inclination is the self-help approach: find ways to incentivise myself not to lose control of my words. Like taking a vow of silence for a day to create the habit of thinking before I speak, or putting money in a jar every time I raise my voice at the kids or let something unholy slip out.
But God is teaching me that there is bitterness in my heart that needs work first.
There is unconfessed sin, and there are roots of bitterness that need to be extracted by the Master Gardener. Some of the sin involves self-reliance and pride. Some of it is impatience and simply being “quick to anger.”
I believe a big part is not believing that I have been equipped by God for all of the tasks that He has called me to, and instead believing the lie that I’ll never get my act together, or even that I’m worthless. So my heart needs work before I can ever hope to gain traction taming my tongue.
2. What comes out of my mouth actually steers me.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.James 3:3-6 (NIV)
You’ve probably experienced it. You let loose with just a couple of careless words and your emotions come flooding behind them, opening the way for more. For instance, the moment I let myself raise my voice to my kids, I lose control of the situation. My anger intensifies and like the James passage says, my tongue ignites a fire that turns into what I like to not-so-affectionately call a “Mommy temper tantrum.”
The words I let loose can actually steer me like a rudder or bridle in a direction away from God’s best for me and my family.
When we realize the power of our words to change the entire trajectory of our course, we won’t listen to Satan’s lies that a careless word here or there won’t hurt.When we realize the power of our words to change the entire trajectory of our course, we won’t listen to Satan’s lies that a careless word here or there won’t hurt. Click To Tweet
3. I cannot tame my tongue (thankfully, God can).
…but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.James 3:8 (NIV)
Even after my heart condition has been addressed, the fact remains that my brain has formed deep grooves along the pathways between frustration and unkind or unwholesome words. There is work in the areas of self-control and discipline that must take place. I can’t possibly tackle this alone as a human, as James 3:8 clearly states. But thankfully one element of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control. With God’s power in me, this is a winning battle.
It will take meditating on scripture and lots of prayer, but I believe with everything in me that the “stock market chart” of my progress in this area will begin to see improvement and climb and climb as Jesus “carries on to completion” the work He has begun in me.
4. My words will bear fruit in the lives of my children. It’s up to me what kind: life-giving or death-giving.
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.Proverbs 18:21 (NIV)
I just have to sit with that for a minute. In order to fully surrender this area of my life to God, I first need to understand the gravity of the issue.
By allowing my tongue to steer me, I’m sowing seeds of death into my children. My words aren’t simply tearing them down for the moment – they’re becoming part of who my children are and how they view themselves.
Those seeds of death are sown in me, too. Some of the careless words are directed at me through negative self-talk and lies spoken over myself. Those seeds eventually bear fruit as well.
I cannot allow the enemy to gain a foothold in my life or the life of my family through careless words. The stakes are too high and far-reaching.
5. Confession is so powerful, and God is a redeemer.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.Genesis 50:20 (NIV)
The most important thing God is teaching me in all of this is the importance of what Jesus did on the cross. He died so that a sinner like me can fall and get back up, fall and get back up, fall and get back up seventy-times-seven times. And then do it all over again.
My hope and belief is that the times I fall will become fewer and farther between… and at some point it could be that this struggle to tame my tongue becomes a distant memory as God refines me and scoops the dross.Jesus died so that a sinner like me can fall and get back up, fall and get back up, fall and get back up seventy-times-seven times. And then do it all over again. Click To Tweet
But listen to this – this is the victory I have and you have as daughters of the King of Kings, the Redeemer of Sinners: He doesn’t just get glory through the end result or the victories we experience. He gets glory in the journey. He is glorified even in the falling. He can take those perceived failures and use them to accomplish His purposes in our lives and in the lives of others.
Hope in Jesus
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
This isn’t to say that we should be okay with being reckless; in Romans 6 Paul assures us that we shouldn’t continue in sin so that “grace may abound.” But what we can do is take heart that the God of the Universe can use our journey of becoming more like Christ in its entirety – sin and all – to bring about good. He works in all things (Romans 8:28).
One example is in the act of confession. When I fail my kids by throwing a Mommy temper tantrum, I need to go to them and confess my failure. And there have been times when this kind of humble action has led to discussions about God and sweet times of fellowship with them that have robbed the enemy of his power. It doesn’t erase the words, but what the enemy intended for evil, God claimed as His own and used for the good of our family.
I have to believe that amidst the seeds of death I’ve carelessly sown, that as I trust God and fix my eyes on Jesus, not losing heart, that through me God will sow even more seeds of life that will grow into flourishing plants that will choke out death.
Join the Conversation
Thank you for joining me on my journey. What about you? Do you share my battle with taming your tongue? We’d love to hear your own struggles and victories in the comments!Do you struggle when it comes to taming your tongue? If so, you are not alone… Click To Tweet
P.S. Don’t forget Christmas is coming. Prepare your heart for the holidays with these Christ-centered devotions written by Heather Hart. As one reader put it, They are saturated with Scripture, personal antidotes, and Bible stories that speak to the soul and add depth and meaning to the birth of our Savior.
Taming the tongue is one of the hardest things we’re called to do. And you’re right; it doesn’t start with just our mouths. It goes much deeper. I struggle with this in various ways too. Thanks for sharing on this topic to help us think the way God wants us to think about this.
Thanks, Lisa! It really is hard, but I’m hoping it will keep getting easier with practice and by God’s grace. God bless you!