The Power of Words

Sam Petitfils 

"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."  James 3:2

Why do marriages fail?  Some years back, U.S. News & World Report filed this report:

"In order to uncover the processes that destroy unions, marital researchers study couples over the course of years, and even decades, and retrace the star-crossed steps of those who have split up back to their wedding day.  What they are discovering is unsettling.  None of the factors one would guess might predict a couple's durability actually does: not how in love newlywed couples say they are; how much affection they exchange; how much they fight or what they fight about.  In fact, couples who will endure and those who won't look remarkably similar in the early days.

Yet when psychologists Cliff Notarius of Catholic University and Howard Markman of the University of Denver studied newlyweds over the first decade of marriage, they found a very subtle but telling difference at the beginning of the relationships.  Among couples who would ultimately stay together, 4 out of every 100 comments made about each other were putdowns.  Among couples who would later split, 10 out of every 100 comments were insults.  That gap magnified over the following decade, until couples heading downhill were flinging five times as many cruel and invalidating comments at each other as happy couples.  "Hostile putdowns act as cancerous cells that, if unchecked, erode the relationship over time," says Notarius, who with Markman co-authored the book, We Can Work it Out.  "In the end, relenteless unremitting negativity takes control and the couple can't get through a week without major blowups."

Centuries ago, the Book of Proverbs cautioned its readers about the power of words, mincing no words:

"The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but he mouth of the wicked gushes evil."  Proverbs 15:28

In the report above, the negative and destructive words seemed to take on a life of their own in the lives of countless couples.  Yet it does not have to be that way.  In Christ, we are called to a much higher standard, using words that heal and encourage rather than destroy and maim.  How can we better control what we say?

1.  Pray each day that God would provide strength to speak gracious words.

2.  Ponder what you say before you speak.  When in doubt, it might be best to say nothing at all (Proverbs 17:27-28).

3.  If you have to speak an uneasy truth to someone, pray that God would give you the words and make sure your own heart is pure before God (Galatians 6:1).

4.  At the end of the day, review your conversation you had with others.  Did your speech honor Christ?  Ask God to direct your heart and tongue and give you the wisdom to speak the words He wants you to speak.

5.  Most people would be helped by speaking less.  Proverbs 29:20 says, "Do you see someone who speaks in haste?  There is more hope for a fool than for them."

Nearly all sin involves words in one way or another.  Let's pray that God would provide the wisdom to know what to say, and the strength to resist the temptation to say hurtful words.


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