“Be careful of the words you speak and keep them soft and sweet, you never know which one of them you may have to eat.”
Those words were on a plaque that hung in my first pastor’s office. It has been nearly half a century since I first read that sage advice and have reflected on the idea often over the years.
While I often reflected on those words, I can’t say that they have always guided my behavior, or unfortunately, my speech. There are words I wish I could unsay. Sometimes the regret comes as soon as the words leave my mouth or I hit the send button. Sometimes the correction comes later when giving more thought to the words, I realize I didn’t need to say them at all. I could have been more tactful or more loving.
I understand there are applications that give you a few seconds to ask, “Are you sure you want to send this?” I understand you can unpost things from the internet or Facebook; but it is a bit like putting toothpaste back in the tube when it’s out there — it isn’t coming back.
While I have often reflected on the words of my pastor’s plaque, the words that have impacted me more came from Jesus.
Recorded by the former tax collector Matthew, Jesus said: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Chapter 12:34 NIV). Ouch. My dad often reminded me to “put my head in gear before I opened my mouth.” But it is not just about my head; my words reflect my heart. So when I use the excuse, “I didn’t mean to say that” or “I can’t believe I said that,” according to Jesus it is a window into a private place I don’t always want to look into and don’t want others to see.
So they are not just words, but rather a spiritual diagnostic of our heart, a sort of CAT scan looking under the veneer of who we are or who we would like to be.
The apostle Paul, while writing to the church at Rome about his own struggle with trying to be perfect, trying to make himself worthy and then doing the very things he did not want to do, wrote: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Roman’s 7:24 NIV).
When you continue through the rest of the letter, Paul reminds us it is only by the grace of God through Jesus Christ that we have any hope. In one of many places, Paul puts the emphasis on God’s grace. Writing to the church of Galatia, he said, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21 NIV).
I remember as a child hearing or saying, “Now you take that back” and even when it was taken back it didn’t go away. There are things I cannot unsay but I am reminded of God’s reply to Paul when he complained about his “thorn in the flesh.”
God said His grace is sufficient.
Bill Upton is chaplain of the Tooele City Police Department.