I'm on vacation with my family this week. Enjoy this series from the archives. “Don’t say it unless you mean it.” Those words have come out of my mouth no less than a dozen times in the past three days. After spending five days with my parents, including close to 30 hours in the car, my girls came home to snipe at one another. Apparently they’ve had a little too much togetherness.
Too often, we’re like my girls, we say things we don’t mean. And when anger rules our tongues, the words that roll off of them often aren’t true, aren’t uplifting and aren’t kind. Anger makes us say things we don’t mean. It makes us wish we could take back words after they have spilled out. I can’t count how many times I’ve said something to one of my kids in anger that has crushed their spirits, and I wish I could take it back. But I can’t.
The danger with speaking in anger is that we do damage that is unforgettable and irrepairable. So we must learn to control our tongues — even in the midst of being angry. Ephesians 4:29 says “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.” See that little word “any?” It means we have to control our words all the time — not just when we’re calm. There are no exceptions in that command for words spoken in anger.
The key to controlling our words when we’re angry is God. We absolutely cannot control our words on our own. So, when we’re angry, we need to stop and pray. Before we open our mouths, our first words need to be to directed toward God. We need to ask Him to control our tongues. Think of the damage that could be contained if we let God be the one in charge of our words. Harsh words would go unsaid and little spirits would stay intact.
If you or your kids struggle with controlling your words in anger, try this exercise to drive home the point of how words spoken in anger can leave permanent damage. Tack up a blank piece of a paper to a bulletin board. Every time your child gets angry, have him stick a tack in the paper. Explain that that tack is his words spoken in anger. They are sharp, and they hurt the person they are directed at.
When the paper is full of tacks, start having your child take a tack out each day. Explain that taking the tack out is like offering an apology. When all the tacks are gone, ask your child what he sees on the paper. It’s still filled with holes. That’s because no matter how much we apologize, our words can leave lasting wounds, just like the tacks left holes in that paper.
Our words are a powerful tool. They can be used to persuade and to share love or they can be used to poke holes in others’ souls. We choose. When we let anger rule, we choose to hurt others. When we let God rule we choose to share love. It’s that simple. Remember to stop and pray when you get angry because we want to stop leaving holes in others’ souls.