This week reminded me that words are extremely powerful. Most of us underestimate the effect language can have — until someone uses theirs to wound us. Proverbs 12:18 says, “Rash language cuts and maims, but there is healing in the words of the wise.”
One person says this. The other person hears that. A third person overhears something entirely different. Before you know it, people are brandishing “truth” like Star Wars sabers — if not out loud, in their thoughts. Very quickly the original intent is lost under layers of angry misunderstanding.
This morning, I read the post of a bride who chose “earthy tones” for her wedding and asked that family members choose similar colors. Her step-mother was not happy, preferring bright/bold colors, but she agreed they could shop together and find a dress.
Nothing was the right color. Finally, she accused the bride of being self-centered and went home in tears.
Then the bride’s father got involved. He accused the frazzled bride of trying to destroy his wife’s self-esteem. “He called me a fake person who doesn’t know what love is, a controlling psycho, and then began swearing at me and saying I made his wife cry.”
Then her fiancé got involved. Then her own mother jumped in.
The bride attempted to call her step-mother and see if they could find a compromise. She wouldn’t pick up the call. Is her father still walking her down the aisle?
When issues become inflamed and I’m itching to speak up, the first thing I ask myself is, “Should this be said?”
I don’t have the right to say everything that pops into my mind. Many things should be left unsaid because they are hurtful. It doesn’t matter if they are true. It doesn’t matter if I would enjoy saying them. Sometimes it isn’t even my business.
If after careful evaluation, it does need to be said, I move to my second question. “Does this need to be said by me?”
The bride did need to speak up. She even went a step further by taking her step-mother shopping to find a dress they both liked.
You know who didn’t need to speak up? The father of the bride, the fiancé and her mother. Yes, they needed to listen, but ill-timed words worsened the situation. Feelings got hurt.
The third and final question I ask myself when conversations become heated is, “Should this be said by me now?” How urgent is this situation? (Most happily married people have learned that prevailing in a conflict often depends on knowing when to speak.)
Pastor Josh Surratt wrote, “Leaders tell the truth to people. Cowards tell the truth to other people, about other people.” In other words, truth or not, do we have the right to speak up? To whom? And when?
Even truth can wound if it is not tempered with grace, cushioned with love, and spoken when the time is right. We all say things we shouldn’t, but God is never the author of words that crush the spirit, no matter how truthful or well said. The high road is often a silent one.
Sanctification is the process through which we grow into the likeness of Jesus. How we choose our words is evidenced in how we treat one another. How we treat one another is a measure of our growth.
Even with well-chosen words and the best of intentions, hurt feelings occur in our relationships. There’s nothing wrong with stepping away for a season of reflection.
“A smart person knows what to say. A wise person knows whether to say it or not.” — Anonymous.
Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.