(Please note: This piece originally posted on March 8, 2018.)
My words have gotten me into a heap of trouble. I’ve initiated and meddled in arguments I shouldn’t have, fought to be right rather than understand, and wreaked destruction in the name of self-defense.
Considering the consequences wrought from my careless, and often damaging, statements, one would think I’d have learned to guard my words. But though I’ve memorized, prayed, and recited verses addressing this issue numerous times, I continue to stumble.
Here’s why: I’ve been fighting the symptom instead of the cause.
Whenever my mouth (or keyboard) runs a muck, my pride’s at fault. The solution, then, is surrender—making Jesus, obedience to Him, and the intimacy that follows (rather than man’s opinion) my treasure.
Let me explain using Proverbs 18:2 as an example: “Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.”
Because we believe we know best, need to defend ourselves, or prove our point.
Often, this is triggered by fear (which, 90% of the time is rooted in pride)—fear of losing face or not getting something we want or hope for. But in our desire to elevate or defend ourselves, we can miss crucial unspoken “heart talk.”
Let me give an example. A while back, I engaged in a somewhat heated discussion with someone, one that revealed considerable miscommunication—things that were heard that were never said, statements taken out of context, and others extrapolated in confusing ways. Focused on the miscommunication, I attempted to unpack each one.
Remaining oblivious to the insecurities and wounds underlying it all and therefore only exacerbated the problem. Had I focused on the person’s heart more than their words, I could’ve responded with more wisdom and grace.
Reading through Proverbs 18, I thought of this interchange, and as I often do, of my propensity to talk myself into trouble. Only this time, I went deeper, to my heart. How, I wondered, could I respond differently the next time when, so often, my words tumble out before my brain catches up?
Evaluating the whys behind my behaviors, I came up with a list:
- Recognize I don’t need to defend myself. When someone criticizes me, if their complaints are valid, acknowledge this and prayerfully consider ways I might change. Because living in grace means I’m in need of it. I’m broken and prone to sin and nowhere near who God would have me to be, and yet I’m accepted and deeply loved. This disarms my pride with humility as I recognize my need for Christ, and this in turn gives me the courage to grow.
- Recognize God’s opinion and my obedience to Him is more important than man’s perception of me. When I base my identity in Christ and treasure intimacy with Him more than “saving face,” I don’t need to defend myself or prove a point.
- When I begin to feel defensive, uncover the fear beneath, and then remind myself of who I am in Christ. He’s my defender, protector, perfect guide, and the One who holds my future in His hands.
- Don’t own whatever’s not true. Simply disregard it, reminding myself of action steps one through three.
- Finally, listen for the fears and insecurities behind my “opponent’s” words and address those before attempting to resolve anything external.
Relational conflicts can be messy, confusing, and cloaked in emotion and false perceptions. To resolve them grace-fully, putting a guard rail on my tongue in the process, I need to take time to go deep—to my and my opponent’s heart, surrendering my pride and resultant emotions to Jesus so that He can love that other person through me.
Let’s talk about this! How easy is it for you to guard your tongue? When considering times your words have gotten you into trouble, can you see similar “root causes” as I mentioned in my list? In the above, I suggested pride is often the root of our fears and fear is often the root of much conflict. Do you agree or disagree, and why so? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!
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