It was early in the morning, still dark out. The light from my screen cast its blue hue as I scrolled through recent posts of dear friends and total strangers. Updates on an adoption… questions about plumbers… links to dessert recipes… And then a post caught my eye. It was a quote. I recognized those words.
I said those words. I wrote them in a journal, some time back when my boys were babies and my sleep was scarce. I shared them with a group of mothers and then went about my business for the next six years or so. And then half a globe away from home, I opened Facebook one morning and read back to myself what ‘Sarah Tenney Stehlik’ said one time.
Sobering, not because I regretted those particular words; I’ll stand with those words. It was sobering because of all the other words I’ve spoken that I do regret. It was sobering because words matter. Because words are powerful and they carry weight and they live on well past our tongues; and yet we throw them around with such recklessness and impulse. Sobering- perhaps most of all- because the words themselves only expose what is on the inside of us: love, humility, kindness, faith, patience, generosity, wisdom. Or, unfortunately, other things: pride, malice, envy, hatred, bitterness, apathy, selfishness.
And we have this mysterious ability to pull out something as profound and nourishing as “kindness”, wrap it up in a love-wrought word and bless someone with it. Likewise do we have the ability to pull up something as foul and wounding as “bitterness”, encase it within a verbal blade and pierce another’s spirit.
…For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
I don’t know if we take this seriously- if we understand that we wield the forces of life and death with our speech. Certainly the digital age has crippled us in some ways, made reckless words easy- often divorcing them from the otherwise tangible consequences were we to choose those same words in a face to face, in-His-likeness to in-His-likeness exchange.
Words matter… words tweeted thoughtlessly. Cyber words vented to the cyber kingdom. They are real words about real people that expose real characters and forge real impressions in the real world. They all matter.
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
There are plenty of words I have spoken in my life that I hope never again see the light of day… that I hope are not quietly remembered somewhere and put before the world another six years from now. Hurtful words. Angry words. There are proud words I have let loose that I cannot call back. The heart bows with gratitude that grace is offered to cover every single one of them. But also this:
May I remember that I am carrying around with me at every moment the choice to heal or to wound. Life and death. And may the weight of it slow my tongue enough to choose well.