Responsible Speech

Colossians 4:6–Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

When I was a kid, I got picked on quite a bit. I had glasses and I was “the smart kid” who actually liked to answer teacher questions and get good grades. For some reason, this was seen as a weakness to prey upon by a few of the other children. They would say the most awful things, and my response was to cry. Which, of course, only made it worse. Another weakness to be poked at. It wouldn’t be until hours later that I would think of that perfect, hot retort. This was after mulling over their comments, relentlessly torturing myself, and wondering why, oh why, I had to be the brunt of their cruelty. It was torture, and I was furious with myself that I couldn’t fire off those harsh words in the moment. I never got to say most of them to anyone other than myself.

There was one girl in high school that had a particularly vicious tongue. Like a whip that stung and tore your flesh. If you cast an accidental glance her direction it was likely to fly at you. I was terrified of her. I have no idea where she is now or what her life is like, but I hope it’s a good one. I’m also happy I wasn’t that type of teenager. I don’t think anyone was afraid of me. Ever. And I’m glad.

As a grownup I have learned to be thankful for this element of myself. That in the heat of a word battle, I usually go blank. And I’ve come to embrace it as a strength. For it’s kept me from ‘spouting off at the mouth’ many times. I’ve kept my cool, kept my peace, and not said things I’m sure I would regret later on. (Now, my husband might disagree from time-to-time, but let’s, for the sake of argument, look at interactions with people other than him. That’s a whole ‘nother discussion.)

God doesn’t want us to be sharp-tongued and nasty to people. He wants us to make sure we think through each and every thing we say. To meditate on the words and make sure they are wise (seasoned with salt) before we allow them to escape. Sometimes that’s easier said than done (pun intentional here). But, you know what helps? Prayer. When someone angers you and you are tempted to make a smart retort, pray first. Pray that you are speaking God-given words, not just ones that feel good in the moment. Sometimes you will find that God wants you to walk away, cool off, and come back with a level head before you address the issue. Sometimes you may never get a chance to address the issue, and that’s okay. But what if that person who just said something mean and nasty to you is someone who needs you to be a witness? If you spit back something inappropriate that makes them feel equally awful, how can you come back later and proclaim God’s goodness and love? They won’t be receptive because they will never forget the harsh words exchanged.

I am far from perfect at this myself. I definitely get angry right back when someone says something terrible to me. But I have to learn to ‘be angry and sin not’ by biting my tongue and continue to embrace the silent response until I am calm and reasonable again. With prayer and God’s help, I can make sure that my speech is always responsible and respectful. And therefore not tearing someone else down right alongside me. I want my responses to be helpful, not hurtful. The old adage is still around for a reason. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Hard at times. But true.

Do you have a story about bullying you’d like to share? Or a comment about how to keep from reacting negatively to someone’s mean comments? I’d love to hear them!

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