What would it be like for us if the harm we do with our words had immediate physical manifestations in the person we harm? In other words, if I gossiped about someone, they were to get a corresponding gash on their forehead. Or if I were to slander someone with some awful, untrue statement to assuage a pain that I carry around, then the next time I saw them they walk up to me with a limp that was the result of my words. What if I exploited someone through sarcasm to turn a joke in a group (which regularly happen both to me and from me), but actually harmed the person I was exploiting. What if they bent over with abdominal pain? Would it impact whether I continued to gossip, slander or exploit? Would it finally motivate me to stop, to measure my words, to repent?
It has the intense imagery of physical pain as a result of reckless words. Words do matter. They can wound. I mean, duh! They have the power to heal or to injure. Not to give us a break, but the apostle James goes so far as to says that it is impossible to control the tongue. It is an unyielding foe. James is, however, saying these things not as relief from harnessing our words, but to simply state the challenge before every human.
John Gottman, the ubiquitous marriage therapist, states that for a marriage to be healthy (really any significant relationship) there needs to be a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. He does clarify that a positive interaction includes more than words. They could be in the form of a gentle touch, an embrace, a kind gesture or deed, but I would say that words form the main corpus of those interactions. The problem is, I know I am going to fail with my words. Seriously, I know it and hate it. The ratio though, does give me an actionable target. Divvy up all of my words and actions and make sure that I hit at least 5 to 1 with each significant person in my life. There does need to be action for the “one” as well…that would be in the form of forgiveness asking, which I will write about at some other time.
For now, I desire to live into the apostle Paul’s words, “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.” (Ephesians 4:29) There it is. Speak life, build life in others.