By Ava Pennington
When Hurricane Irma blew through south Florida last September, we were fortunate not to sustain damage to our home. But the natural environment did not fare as well. Hurricane-force winds snapped off branches and uprooted trees. Root balls sometimes 6 feet across lay upended. So many trees died. Some are still hanging on, shadows of their former, vibrant selves. Still others, with human assistance, have been replanted, pruned, and nurtured, and are now thriving.
But all that repair came at a cost. It cost us in time and labor. And in our efforts to save some of the landscaping surrounding us, other parts of it became damaged as we worked. The final mound of dead foliage by the curb was 6 feet high and wide, and 15 feet long. By the time it was all picked up, we had an equally large patch of dead grass in our front lawn.
The grass that died under the weight of the branches got me thinking about my relationships. How many relationships have I killed with the weight of my words? How many people stuck with me for just so long before they moved on, allowing the relationship to die?
It goes the other way, too. How many friendships have I walked away from over the years, because the weight of the other person’s words brought death to my spirit instead of life?
Someone once said: “Be careful of your words. Once spoken, they can be forgiven, but not forgotten.”
So true. I confess to having replayed over and over hurtful words spoken to me long after I claimed to forgive. Their words continued to pierce my heart even long after the sender regretted speaking them, creating a distance between us.
Or perhaps it’s us who are consumed with regret for what we said in the heat of the moment. We attempt reconciliation with the other person, but even years later, their hurt remains, and remoteness remained over reconciliation.
Of course, healthy boundaries are important. If the other person won’t acknowledge their responsibility for the damage they’ve caused, then it’s not wise to continue the relationship at the same level of intimacy. We are called to forgive unconditionally, but restoration and reconciliation are processes that may not follow, however much we might desire it.
Still, what if you and I were more careful of the words we speak? What if we stopped those words before we spoke them, instead of asking forgiveness after they leave our mouth?
Winston Churchill once said, “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”
The writer of Proverbs observed, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18 ESV).
It’s easier to maintain a good relationship than to have to repair it. To that end, I want my words to be gracious, even when I’m hurt or angry. It’s worth it because people are worth it. People created in the image of God and people for whom Jesus Christ died.
I know I can’t do this in my own effort. I need the Holy Spirit’s work in my life to strengthen me in this area. So today, my prayer is, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3 ESV).
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21 ESV
About the author: Ava Pennington is an author, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. Her most recent book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is endorsed by Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries.
Ava has also published stories in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse.
She is a passionate speaker and delights in encouraging groups with relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.
Join the conversation: What helps you to guard your tongue?