One of our granddaughters is recovering from hand, foot, and mouth disease. Yes, that’s a real disease, usually affecting very young children. It’s not serious—the virus just causes a low fever, a rash, and little blisters on the hands, feet, and in the mouth and throat. While there is no vaccine or treatment, it runs its course in a few days.
Lately, I’ve been suffering from a much more dreaded malady: foot in mouth disease. A number of times in the past few weeks, I’ve said something I’ve instantly regretted. Then, to try and cover up my slip, I say something more, compounding the problem. Now I have both feet in my mouth.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not good at conversation. I much prefer to communicate with a keyboard, where I can think things over, rephrase, delete and retype. The problem with talking to someone is that it’s so spontaneous—and you can’t take your words back!
Phone calls are even worse, as I can’t see the person I’m talking to. Are they smiling when they say that? Rolling their eyes at my response? What if they’re thinking that I’m an idiot, while I ignorantly blunder ahead? It isn’t until after I hang up that I think of all the things I should have said. As a result, I’ve been known to get in my car and drive to the bank or the doctor’s office, just to avoid talking to someone on the phone. Pathetic, I know.
I’m not the first person to have problems with my words. Two thousand years ago, James wrote,
We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
Since no one is perfect, I take this to mean that we all say something we regret at one time or another. James goes on to add, “… no human being can tame the tongue.”
One of the scariest verses in the Bible (at least for me) is the time Jesus said, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36). God isn’t just concerned with our actions—he’s going to ask about our words as well.
While I do say amazingly stupid and hurtful things, most of the time I can control my tongue, if not my thoughts. But what happens when I’m old? As our parents aged, Pete and I noticed that the “governor” on their mouths seemed to expire, and they’d blurt out whatever they were thinking. It was pretty embarrassing. I’d be sitting with my dad in a waiting room and a large person would come in the door. I could anticipate what was coming next (in a loud voice, as he was hard of hearing): “Look at that lady! Look at how fat she is!!” All I could do was give the victim an apologetic shrug and mouth “Sorry!” It wasn’t nearly enough.
With such an example, I realize that I have to work on thinking what I want to be saying. When a critical thought comes along, I need to repent, pray, and replace it with something I wouldn’t mind saying out loud. Hopefully, by the time I’m doddering, I’ll be a sweet little old lady rather than a critical harpy.
The Bible is full of verses about our words. We can use them to curse, or to praise God—to tear people down or to build them up. I want to practice saying good things, so that it will be a habit when I’m older. Here are a few proverbs I try to keep in mind:
- The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
- Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity. (Proverbs 21:23)
- Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongue (Prov. 10:19)
- Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue. (Proverbs 11:12)
Notice the trend here? Often it’s best to keep our mouths shut! Here’s my favorite:
- Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongue (Proverbs 17:28)
How can we control what we say? We say what our heart speaks. In Luke 6:45 we read:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Trying to curb our speech without God’s help is like treating the symptoms and ignoring the cause of the illness. I need to allow the Holy Spirit to transform my heart. Maybe there’s hope for my foot-in-mouth disease!
I really need to keep my mouth shut! I want to hit backspace, or delete, but life doesn’t come with those features.