Monty Python once said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours." Sure, he wasn't a great theologian or deep-thinking philosopher of our time, but these words are profound nonetheless. The old adage "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" really is not true, is it? Sticks and stones may do physical harm - injuries which are apparent on the "outside" of a man. Words have a way of doing emotional and spiritual damage - injuries which are not as apparent because they occur "within" the man. Maybe this is why there is repeated reminders about the importance of our words - for what gets spoken has a potential of leaving us broken. You can quote me on that!
Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest. Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. (Proverbs 18:20-21 MSG)
You have all probably heard the term "constructive criticism", right? Now, just how many of you have any idea what that term means? If you break it down, criticism is really the act of passing judgment as to the "merits" of anything - whether it is a particular action, inaction, or way a person is made up. So, tell me, how do we do this without being "destructive"? Look it up - criticism is any action of fault-finding. There isn't much "constructive" in criticism! There is a fine line between sharing "good talk" which will yield a "good harvest" and being "critical" in our words. We need to learn the difference if we are to guard our relationships and continue to grow within them.
Words must be tempered in love - they are to be spoken only if they can build another up in the process. Not every thought is meant to be spoken - because our "heart" can be a little fickle at times and what comes out may not be a "tempered" as it should be. The word "tempered" carries the idea of something being brought to a proper or suitable state by "blending" in that which will give strength and stability. If our words are "tempered" with love, they are less likely to bring devastation - they will lend strength to the relationship and stability. To do this, we have to accurately interpret the needs of the other person - something we don't do if we speak before we think, or don't truly listen before we speak.
The words we actually speak will become the words we live with. Chew on that one just a bit and you might just begin to recognize some the "harvest" you have been reaping is a direct result of the words you have been speaking. Can anyone else besides me say, "Ouch"? Yep, we often do a lot more than we think in "creating the environment we live in" through the words we speak. This "environment" is a product of our lips - what gets spoken has no way of ever being truly "taken back". Three questions we can quickly as ourselves before speaking which may go a long way in ensuring the words we speak will be more "constructive" and less "destructive": Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
In relationships, problems have a way of arising, don't they? When they do, how we "speak into" the relationship matters. Honesty is a good policy, but it needs to be tempered with love. We have to be kind in the relationship, but truthful at the same time. Flattery doesn't get us anywhere - it only masks the issues at hand. Yet we gravitate toward flattery rather than being honest in love. A spoken reprimand is an act of love and a sign of true friendship. Some of us just need to hear how our actions have been affecting the other person in the relationship - but do this in love. Don't accuse. Don't use the "you always" statement. Don't blame. Share honestly, keeping a watchful eye on the words which are not being spoken, and then work together to communicate what is deeper than surface level.
We have to learn to "process" the conflict in relationships or we will get nowhere. Actually, where conflict exists, this is the place love really exists - because the absence of conflict really is not love. Now, I probably just got a few of you upset with that statement, but if you really think about it, when there is no conflict, someone is not being honest in the relationship. No relationship is SO good it will be totally conflict free. Conflict actually is this process of iron sharpening iron scripture speaks about. As we share what is bothering us within relationship, we have an opportunity to grow together into a stronger bond. This takes commitment - conflict is not entered into lightly and it is never truly "over" until each party feels it is. This is why it is so important to be sure we are truthfully "processing" conflict as it occurs - until both parties can say with an assurance they are "over" what caused the conflict in the first place.
Here are some rules I think might just help us in choosing our words wisely:
- Compliment in public; correct in private. If we'd live by this rule, we might just save ourselves a lot of heartache.
- Pick your timing carefully. Nothing is worse than being "out of sync" when you need to have that "crucial conversation".
- You may only give correction to the same degree you have a depth of connection in the relationship. In other words, if there is no depth of connection, the correction is not likely going to be received well.
- It is important to remain teachable. Teachable moments only occur when someone is willing to teach and the other is willing to accept the teaching. Mom used to say, "If you are going to give it out, you have to be willing to receive it in return." She is indeed a wise woman! Sometimes we need a little correction, as well. The teacher has to be willing to be the student, as well. Just sayin!