About a month ago, I was wrangling the label off a jar when the knife slipped and jabbed my left hand right below the thumb. A tiny puncture, no more than a centimeter long. Very little pain. Very little blood. But very well-aimed. Deep enough to slice the tendon to my thumb in two. Which resulted in hand surgery, almost 2 weeks in a ginormous splint, 4–6 weeks in a smaller splint, and months of physical therapy to regain motion and full functionality. All that because I didn’t stop to consider the consequences of using a knife as a weapon in a wrestling match with a jar label. As my daughter so sweetly put it, “Mom, you’ve made handling kitchen knives with impunity your hobby.”
I am typing, the splint firmly in place, and contemplating the similarities between that kitchen knife and my words. Sometimes, I think carefully and prayerfully about what I am about to say. I lean into God and ask him to speak wisdom beyond my own through me. In those cases, God consistently uses my words to heal relationships and create unity.
Too be honest, those situations are often the exceptions rather than the rule. More often, I speak without thinking. If I do pause before speaking, it isn’t to pray. I pause to shape my words into weapons and then aim them at soft spots where they will plunge deep. Once that’s done, I let the words fly off my tongue and hit their target with astonishing precision.
On the surface, the wounds I cause appear tiny. Bloodless. Painless. But over time, the damage below the surface becomes evident. Hurt feelings. Misunderstandings. Severed relationships that require massive amounts of time and energy to heal and always leave a scar. Nothing is ever the same after my barbed words spew forth without considering the consequences of using words as weapons.
I’m not the first person with this problem. James 3:6 describes how New Testament believers used the power of speech to harm others. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire. Not a pretty picture.
Paul also talks about the power of the tongue and sprinkles advice to believers throughout his letters about how to harness their power. Colossians 4:6 is my favorite. Instead of dwelling on what believers shouldn’t do–because if we’re honest, we already know what shouldn’t be said and still chose to say it anyway–Paul describes how we should speak. With grace, enhanced with salt so the listeners will savor, eat, and be nourished by them.
Those words are ones believers should commit to memory, to have ready to pull out and pray in the moments we are tempted to speak before thinking. When we do so, our moment of contemplation and dependence upon God’s wisdom instead of trusting our own can avert accidents. It can strengthen relationships rather than sever them. The pause to pray Colossians 4:6 allows us to channel time and energy toward kingdom building rather than damage control. They’re words I’ll be reminded to pray every time a glance at my hand reminds me of both the power of ordinary words…and kitchen knives.