“Once upon a time, there was a village called Smoldering Pines. Smoldering Pines… lay at the foot of the great sleeping volcano, Mt. Discordia. Spoken words in Smoldering Pines take on a physical form. Whenever people talk, their words appear in the air and then fall haphazardly to the ground. Homeowners then rake their discarded words into piles at the edge of their property. Over time, these piles…become fences. Thoughts, like words, can become visible, too. Granted the town does like dangerously close to a volcano. But this isn’t a concern for the residents. After all, Mt. Discordia has been dormant for hundreds of years.”
Bet you can guess the rest of David Hutchens’ story. Listening to the Volcano is a marvelously funny yet thought-provoking fable about many things including the power of our words.
Research says that women speak about 20,000 words a day – some 13,000 more than the average man. That alone ought to caution us because Proverbs 10:19 (ESV) says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Admittedly, I have to agree. Somewhere among that many words we are bound to find some that would have best been kept behind the teeth.
In Hutchens’ fable, spoken words actually materialize into wooden placards and fall to the ground. They mound up into piles and form fences around the speaker. Likewise their thoughts. Guess what? In reality our words and thoughts form fences, too. We do not see them as readily as in Listening to the Volcano, but it might be a good thing if we did because they would be a very visible reminder to us. How powerful if we actually saw that hateful thought, that sarcastic word, that vengeful or vindictive contemplation and that spiteful, spirit-killing word – materialized and lying right before us at our feet. I can’t help but believe we might have some pause before speaking again and that we might be more obedient to 2 Corinthians 2:5 and actually take captive our thoughts.
As wedding presents my maternal grandmother gave me gifts of her wisdom. One tidbit I remember is, “Choose your words very carefully. All the “I’m sorries” in the world cannot take them back. Even if your husband tells you he forgives you, he will remember what you said.” That was good advice for me as a newlywed, and it is good advice for anyone. We can say we’re sorry, that we didn’t mean it or that we weren’t thinking. We can offer a ton of other excuses about not feeling well, misunderstanding and being confused. But once a word is spoken, it’s out there, and you cannot take it back. No one can ever misunderstand a word not spoken! Proverbs 21:23 (ESV) says, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” Another way to think about it might be as my grandmother put it. “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth; that ought to tell you something!” Practice listening and speaking proportionately.
Sometimes we feel pressured to speak. Someone angers us, falsely accuses us, slanders us. This is one that I have struggled with. As a retired school administrator, I’ve had more than my fair share of false accusations – some, stretches of the truth; others, just out right lies. Proverbs 26:4 (ESV) teaches us, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself,” but I had a friend that summarized this lesson with his own adage, “When you argue with a fool, you become the fool.” Ecclesiastes 5:6a (ESV) says, “Let not your mouth lead you into sin,” and Proverbs 17:27 (ESV) adds, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Proverbs 21:23 (ESV) goes further, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” When I taught Junior High School (where there were a lot of hot, angry, teenage tongues) I posted an African proverb on one of my bulletin boards, “Must you turn around and look at every dog that barks at you?” It was a good reminder for my students to ignore the lies, accusations and gossip their classmates spread. More than 25 years later, that is still good advice.
Finally, we sometimes get caught up in conversations and dialogue because we are around others who talk too much. I am convinced that a loose tongue can be caught – something like a cold or the flu! Do you work with colleagues who tell “off color” jokes? Do you have family members that curse like sailors or girlfriends that should be on gossip television? Perhaps you have friends that are super negative – every spoken word is a complaint or a put down; they see (and point out) only what is wrong; their throats are open graves and their mouths are full of curses and bitterness (Romans 3:13-14 ESV). We do not have to be unfriendly, and we need never act superior to others, but 2 Timothy 2:16 (ESV) teaches us to “Avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.” You need only remember this childhood ditty, “Loose lips, sink ships.” They will sink you, too. When we dwell in the presence of these individuals, it is often not long before we sink to their level – we repeat the jokes, begin cursing and spread the gossip.
Words are powerful. Consider the following Scriptures understanding that there are at least a dozen more found in the pages of the Bible. God’s word is never in vain. It always achieves its purpose (Isaiah 55:11). Surely there is purpose in so many Scriptures addressing our tongues and our words.
“Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18, ESV)
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21, ESV)
“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9, ESV)
“By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37, ESV)
“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 29:20, ESV)
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:39, ESV)
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:18, ESV)
THIS WEEK, observe your speech and consider your words. Are you talking more than listening? Do your words heal or thrust as a sword? When you speak, are you building up or tearing down? What do your words reveal about your heart?
Remember, “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36, ESV) Don’t you want to stand before our Lord knowing your words restored, built up and made better?