Toxic Words

The Bible is very clear on the point that what we say has a major impact on those we talk to both directly and indirectly. We can count on the fact that everything we say has the potential to shape someone in a big way. Somethings will get swept under the rug and forgotten. Others will stick in people’s minds like superglue, possibly for a lifetime. The other thing about it is, we don’t get to choose which words of ours stay with someone and which they let go of. All the more reason to be not just careful, but intentional.

I think most readers will be able to relate to this statement: most of the words that lead to regret are those spoken in frustration. Kids, a spouse, coworkers, family, and the like can all push us to a point where the flood gates of our mouths are loosed and the lava of unhelpful and poisonous speech come spewing forth. Sometimes instant guilt washes over us in these moments. Other times it takes until the unsettled emotions level out and our minds become rational once again. Whatever the case, the damage has been inflicted and at that point all we can do is release our pride and petition our victims for mercy and pray that God will clean up our mess.

Examples are always helpful so let me share some personal ones that God has taught me to change in my own life.

#1- Be careful of the labels you give to others. Names can be fun and playful, yet they can help someone develop and identity based on what others call them. For example, telling one of my children they are acting like a brat or a snot could possibly lead to them thinking that is how others view them. Or calling someone a jerk or that they’re being stupid can never be helpful. While their behavior seems to warrant such labels, the labels themselves can in no way benefit the hearer.

God’s response: if you’re going to ascribe a label to someone, make sure it is a good one that helps to reveal the person He made them to be. Labels can call someone up to greater things and should never be used to beat someone down.

#2- making unhelpful statements or asking pointless questions. When someone does something, it doesn’t make matters better to say, “how could you do that?” Or another one I’ve used many times with my children, “what were you thinking?” Embedded in the questions themselves is a subtle yet blasting indictment of shame.

God’s response: why not ask questions that will point them to me.

Because words are so powerful, it should be something we think about, and more importantly, pray about a lot. Call it walking on egg shells, or call it plain wisdom. The person who is careless with their words simply cares more about themselves and the expression of their own emotions than how they impact those around them. Here are some helpful verses and what God has taught me through them:

Proverbs 15:4, 16:24, 17:27, and 18:21 – words can bring life or death to someone. So speak life. (Awesome Toby Mac song). They can actually be a tree of life and bring healing to others.

Ephesians 4:29 – the only words that should come out of my mouth are those that are helpful to others.

Matthew 15:18-19 and Luke 6:45 – my words are a mirror of what is in my heart.

Colossians 4:6 – my words need to be full of grace.

Let’s be game changers with our words. No longer will frustration and inpatients dominate our speech. We can bring life and healing and so we shall!

What did you say?

Very few things in life hold the power of words. We learned in elementary school that sticks and stone may break our bones but words will never hurt us. Lies! Physical injury is nothing compared to what one careless word can do. Words can tear someone’s life apart and they can also bring life to someone desperate of encouragement. Words can be a weapon when used with malice and ill content, or they can be a well of refreshment for the desperate hearted. 

Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Think before you speak: It’s an age old saying and I’m sure most of us have been told that, maybe more than once. There could hardly be better advice. Every conversation can be an opportunity to course correct a life, and if we are not careful, it can send someone down a dangerous detour. People who say whatever comes to their mind generally hurt most people.

Proverbs 10:19 (NASB)

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.

Speak to benefit the listener not yourself: Trying to take back words  is like trying to get squeezed toothpaste back in the tube…it’s near impossible. It’s much better to be intentional about speaking life and truth, with grace and with love. If everything we say is meant to be helpful to those we talk to, then we won’t have any need to try and put the toothpaste back in the tube. 

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

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.

We all have an audience: You don’t have to be a pastor, teacher, coach, celebrity, or author in order to speak into people’s lives. For parents, there are always tingling little ears waiting to soke up our every word, even if it seems like they aren’t listening. And that never changes, no matter how old our children are. But it doesn’t stop there. For everyone who isn’t a recluse there are people listening to what we say. What are they hearing?

Psalm 19:14 (ESV)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.