….Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body,sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
I am a fire-starter. No, I’m not a pyromaniac or an arsonist in the worldly sense. I won’t show up at your house and flick my Bic. But I spent the greater part of my life starting fires with my tongue. Let me explain.
In my growing up, how one was perceived by the world-at-large was an all-important detail. I don’t know if it was because I grew up in a very small community where everyone knew everything about everyone and judging it and talking about it to others was a favorite sport. Forget baseball, GOSSIP was the national pastime in the rural county where I grew up. Anyway, I early on developed a need to be looked upon as superior in deed and character, to receive accolades for being “the good one”. If I could lower your opinion of another and show, by comparison, how I was better, my goal would be achieved. My stock went up, yours went down. I’m the good one.
This most often was directed at my younger sister. It started in our youth (and I mean I was probably 10 and she was 5!) and continued on until I was in my 30’s. The only person I really needed to acknowledge my goodness and recognize my superior merit as a human being was my mother and so I would say things about my sister to convey my deep concern that she wasn’t living up to expectations. If I did it correctly, it never came across as judgmental or troublemaking, but as an older sister grieved by the failure of a younger sibling doomed to mediocrity at best and utter failure as a member of the family at worst. My stock went up, hers went down. Fire started.
In my teens it became one of my favorite pastimes to bring stories of my classmates, churchmates, vague acquaintances, to the family bar of judgment. Their foibles were then held up to be measured by my apparent perfection in character and deportment. I would start the fire and then bask in the glow. I’m the good one, you’re the bad one.
As an adult I moved on to my sister-in-law. Same verse, same as the first except now I took my burning embers to my mother-in-law. I NEEDED to be the superior individual. Of course I always omitted my faults and failures. I was superior in one thing for sure, hiding anything unflattering about myself and I was truly gifted at self-promotion. I’m sad now to say it worked. Every time.
Then in my mid-30’s the Lord had had enough. He jerked me up by the tail (sorry, my southern is showing!) and began to make me get control of that tongue of mine. I began to feel truly convicted every time I wanted to start an emotional fire. I could feel the Holy Spirit say “Shh!” each time my mouth would open and my tongue would start to fall out and form the words. This small part of my anatomy had steered the ship for 30+ years and now God had put a curb-bit in my mouth. And it hurt! My flesh screamed. How was I going to feel good about myself if I wasn’t constantly showing you how good I was in comparison to other people? Sick, I know. I was sick, soul-sick. The enemy had done a fine job making me feel so inadequate, so overwhelmed by my shortcomings, that only by making you look like less could I feel like more.
So I repented and stopped fighting the bit. But that was not enough for the Lord. Then He required me to confess. Out loud. To the ones I’d hurt most by my fire-starting. Oh no, Lord! You can’t make me do this! I’ve repented. I’ve stopped starting the fires (mostly), I’m getting better every day! You CANNOT make me go and confess ’cause then they’ll know what and who I really am. They’ll know I’m not the good one. My cover will be totally blown. They’ll know! My stock will be in the toilet!! They will hate me forever!
How many of you know that you cannot argue with the Lord and win? He didn’t argue back, He simply quit talking to me. It was as if He was saying “I’ve told you what you must do. I’m done talking until you obey me.”
It took me a few weeks. I wrestled. I pleaded. My rotten flesh screamed at the injustice and the pain of this latest pruning. Then I picked up the phone.
I started with my sister. After a lifetime of a poor relationship, God had recently healed she and I and I had discovered a treasure of love and friendship in her. I was pretty certain that I was about the ruin it with what I was going to say. Of course God is good. She forgave me (I’m thinking now that she knew all along so my confession wasn’t news to her 🙂 ) and for a decade now she’s been my best friend.
Then I (gulp) confessed to my mother, the one I had always really needed to see me high and lifted up. God’s grace again covered me with her and I was forgiven and given a do-over. Pretty sure she wasn’t surprised either. Maybe I wasn’t as slick as I thought I was, you think?
My mother-in-law and sister-in-law took a little more time for me to address. Here were the relationships that truly could have disintegrated from the flames of my tongue. I wasn’t blood. I was a transplant into the family and a thorny one at that. I would have deserved to be cast out, branded and distrusted forever. I’m not sure how they worked through the pain they had every right to feel but they did. They also forgave me and we’ve moved on. I’m grateful.
I’m grateful for the humans in my life who shown more grace and mercy toward me than I showed to them, more love than I deserved. I’m grateful to a loving Father who refused to let me continue on being controlled by a wicked tongue and asked me for the hard things. I’m grateful for the reins and the curb-bit He applied though they caused blisters on my soul and many hours of exhausted fighting of myself.
The scripture in James goes on to say:
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
I never could have, never would have tamed my own tongue. I had no reason to. Except that God knew that I could never live a victorious life, sharing living water with others when there was salt water pouring from my mouth.
Do you need to tame your tongue today? What could you gain from the effort? I promise you, even if you only gain peace, it is worth it to put out the fire in your mouth. Take it from someone who’s been there, done that.
Soli Deo Gloria