As we continue to navigate our ever-changing world, with new chaos seemingly appearing every day and as the election season gains momentum and the rhetoric on all sides increases in volume and intensity it is so very important for each of us to remember the power of our words. What we say, what we write, and even what we post on Facebook has great power. Whether our words build up or tear down with that power is up to us. With all the stresses piling up on us all these days, and with limited access to many of our tried and true coping mechanisms, it is easy for our words to get the better of us and cause real hurt and pain.
Maybe you remember the childhood chant I was taught when others said mean and hurtful things to me: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It is a great thought. Unfortunately many of us know the truth, that words can be VERY hurtful. Proverbs 12:18 says, “Rash language cuts and maims, but there is healing in the words of the wise.” (The Message) Or Ephesians 4:29, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (NRSV)
For some time now we are becoming more and more removed from the impact of our words. When we post on the internet, send a letter, text, or even call someone else, we do not have to witness the impact of what we say. Which makes it all that much more important that we bridle our tongue. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 12:36-37, “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (NRSV) Our current situation has only amplified our separation from one another, and from the impact of we say and write.
So, how do we control what we say? We could focus on just that, the words which come from our mouths, and our fingers. However, Jesus tells us that the issue is deeper than what we say, write, or do. Jesus reminds us that the real issue is one of the heart. In Matthew 15:18-19 he tells the disciples, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.” (NRSV) So to get at the root of our problems, we must do the hard work of reconciling our hearts with God. While the work of softening our hearts has always been difficult, it has been made even more so by our current situation.
Yes, our hearts can be transformed by prayer and study of scripture. That is part of the process. However, another integral piece has been gathering with other believers and in the midst of our relationships and conversations digging deeply into who God is calling each of us (and all of us) to be. The good news is those deep conversations can still happen; they just look different today than they did at the beginning of the year. There is a little more physical separation, maybe everyone is wearing a face covering, or maybe those conversations are happening using technology, like a telephone, or Zoom. Whatever the mode, it is crucial for us to continue to have those heart-softening conversations, so when we speak (and type) our words build one another up and bring life.