One of the first things that my husband and I had to navigate once we got married was how to handle conflict. It’s one thing to handle conflict well while dating – you can each go to your separate homes, think “life” over, and come back with a fresh perspective. Once married (especially in our tiny first home… but boy-oh-boy did we love that little place!), at best you can go to your opposite corners for a bit.
Speaking truth in tough moments is essential – but often it is not easy to do it well.
For us, the tension in our conflict resolution mainly came from the fact that I take much, much longer to process my thoughts and words than my husband does. Maybe it is a leftover from my days in my first career of journalism, but for me, words are precious. If you say something, you should mean it. Therefore, in moments of conflict, when many words came flooding to my mind, I knew I shouldn’t say all/most of them. Even if I really, really wanted to. So, I would stay quiet.
Let me keep it real with you people – as “pure” as this sounds, sometimes my unwillingness to talk came from a place of passive aggression rather than one of intentional care (that’s a topic for a whole ‘nother post). But mostly, I sincerely wanted to carefully process and filter my thoughts before giving voice to them. Not every thought that runs through one’s mind is what one trulybelieves. There is no point in speaking words that you will inevitably need to retract, because even if you try to do so, they often still leave scars.
Well-spoken words are crucial, because words are powerful.
The Bible consistently reminds us of this. In fact, almost every single chapter in the book of Proverbs addresses the importance of words. Don’t worry, I won’t walk you through all of them – I’ve got to be wise with my words, right? The following proverbs provide a small snapshot of all that the book has to say on this topic:
“Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” – Proverbs 10:19 (NIV)
“The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” -Proverbs 17:27-28
“Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them.”– Proverbs 29:20
In summary, these verses are saying: if you’re smart, you’ll hold your tongue. If you’re thoughtful, you won’t say everything you think. If you’re not the wisest, simply hold your tongue and you’ll automatically seem a lot sharper.
All of these sound like win-win scenarios to me. These proverbs shouldmake sense to us. Very rarely is your first thought (or even second, third, or fourth) pure, holy, or uplifting. When it is – praise God! Say it proudly and confidently. Yet often, it takes time to consider if this is truly the case, especially in moments of tension. How can you know if your words are going to be wise?
You can’t know until you hold your thoughts in prayer, presenting them to God, in the light of Scripture. And that takes time – to pause, pray, put your thoughts in order before God, and let Him respond.
This is a process that takes practice. Hear me say – I am still learning. But the more you do it, the faster and more natural it gets. When you pause to pray, Scripture comes to mind sooner; the peace that passes understanding floods your heart faster; the conviction of the Spirit stirs more swiftly.
In moments of conflict or hard honesty, it is good, wise, and biblical to be quick to listen, but
s l o w to speak.
I love the simple truth of Proverbs 10:19 – “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” In seasons or moments of sin, we often find ourselves feeling the “need” (heavy emphasis on the quotation marks here) to explain ourselves or talk ourselves out of our guilt… or our consequences. But God and His Word are clear: sin doesn’t go away with words. In fact, they often are the very shovels that dig you even deeper into your proverbial hole.
The only words that can end sin are “Father, forgive me; I’m sorry.” Other than that, you are wasting your breath. The prudent – the wise, the smart – they hold their tongues. Because often, the more you say, the more trouble you find yourself in.
Words are powerful, and thus should be handled with care.
The book of James in the New Testament also has a lotto say about the power of words:
“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” – James 3:1-6
James does not mix his words here. As my husband likes to say, “James is a tough cookie.” Our tongues and the words they create are not just likened to, but directly called,a “fire; a world of evil among the parts of the body” (v. 6). YIKES. Our tongue doesn’t just have the power to corrupt a conversation or relationship, it has the power to destroy our entire life. And this destruction doesn’t just come by accident; it is a weapon of evil.
When we do not bridle our tongues – when we are quick to speak and slow to listen – we directly commit ourselves into the hands of the Enemy. THIS is why Proverbs consistently reiterates the importance of choosing and using our words carefully. It’s not about the momentary consequences (arguments with a loved one are tough enough), but rather, it is about the eternal ones.
James 1:26 says, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”
Again, James is a tough cookie. But he is right. If we say we love Jesus, that also means we should love His creation… including humankind, made in God’s image. By not controlling our tongues when we speak to and about others, we are throwing our “faith” to the wayside. Our faith is worthless if our tongue controls us more than the Holy Spirit does.
In moments of tension, it is essential that we choose our words carefully. And that typically (if not always) means being slow to speak.
Over our five+ years together, my husband and I have grown so much in this area. But we still have a way to go. Yet the more we practice being slow to speak and quick to listen, the easier and smoother the process becomes. This is also true for all of our other interpersonal relationships. And it can be true for all of yours, as well.
Being slow to speak is a win-win: not only is it, ya know, biblical, but it also makes you look pretty dang smart, too. And best of all, God exhibits the same grace to us:
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.He will not always accuse,nor will he harbor his anger forever;he does not treat us as our sins deserveor repay us according to our iniquities.For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” – Psalm 103:8-12
Today’s writer is Elizabeth Rogers. Elizabeth is the Connections Pastor at Classic City Church in Athens, GA. Passionate about the Spanish culture and language, Elizabeth served for three years with an international missions organization in Spain. She loves adventuring with her husband, group fitness classes, and morning quiet times outside with a good cup (or two or three) of coffee. Elizabeth currently resides in Athens, GA with her handsome goof of a husband, Josh. You can connect with Elizabeth via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.