My husband and I sat with our two guests in the tiny living room of our very first home. I was holding our infant son. He was our second-born child, and I was a proud stay-at-home mother (emphasis on proud). My husband worked for a local reconditioned appliance and furniture store, and we lived on a budget so tight it nearly squeaked. In order to make ends meet, I nursed my babies instead of buying formula, made my own baby food in a blender, and used cloth diapers rather than disposable. I cooked from scratch and even made my own baby wipes. I was determined to make any sacrifice that would enable me to stay at home with our children full-time.

As I sat on the couch next to my husband, I listened to an energetic young couple who were new to our circle of friends. Both worked full-time outside the home and they had one darling infant, their firstborn child. In addition to their jobs, they had started a side business, one of those multilevel marketing plans. We thought they were just coming over for coffee and dessert, but it soon became apparent they were trying to rope us into this business venture.

I began to feel bitter and judgmental. Their sales pitch was annoying and presumptuous. Besides, her clothes were from a high-end store while I frequented resale shops or occasionally the sale rack at the department store. Of course, their two cars were also much nicer than the old Volkswagen Rabbit my husband and I shared.

I’ll admit it. I was jealous. And I was rather self-righteous about my lifestyle choice when it came to being a stay-at-home mother. And so, when the conversation got around to women working outside the home, I chimed in. “Oh, I am so grateful I get to be home with Mackenzie and Mitchell. I’d rather live on bread and water than have someone else raising my kids.”

Yes, I said that!

As I spoke, I saw the woman’s countenance fall. She felt just horrible, I’m sure. However, I justified my words thinking she needed to be convicted about her job choice—and it was my job to convict her. I am so ashamed now when I think back on that interaction. (I’m not so dogmatic about the whole stay-at-home mom versus working mother issue today. But back then? I thought staying home was not only the best, but also the only way!)

If you want to be purely technical about it, the words I said were in fact true. I was grateful to be a stay-at-home mom. But I said it in order to elevate myself. To make her look bad—and feel bad.

When it comes to our words, motives and manners matter. So how do we train our brains and tame our tongues so that we stop hurting others with our words? How do we make sure that our motives and manners match up with God’s Word?

1. Watch for blind spots. If I rely only on my rearview mirror and don’t turn my head to double check my car’s blind spot, I may cause a crash, injuring others and perhaps also myself. The same is true for my words. Consider this wise but painful insight: “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord” (Proverbs 16:2).

Ouch. Here’s raw biblical truth that affirms we can be flat-out self-deceived about the purity of our own motives. We justify and explain. We offer excuses. We make an airtight case for why what we said was said in love. But the one thing we can’t do? We can’t fool God. He knows our true colors.

Here are a few questions to consider as you examine your motives before you speak.

  • Is my goal to help the person or situation? Or is it to put a little pinch in their heart?
  • Do I feel my words will bring a solution or, if I’m totally honest, might they cause more of a problem?
  • Even if what I plan to say is truthful, is my aim to say something that will make me look better by comparison?
  • Have I earned the right to speak to this particular person?
  • Are these words really necessary? Why?
  • Have I prayed about it, or only thought about it in an effort to plan what I’ve already determined to say?
  • Am I trying to play Holy Spirit and convict someone or guilt them into changing their mind?
  • If the roles were reversed, would I want the other person to say the same thing to me?

2. Beware of the sly tongue. Proverbs warns, “Like a north wind that brings unexpected rain is a sly tongue—which provokes a horrified look” (25:23).

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word sly means “clever in concealing one’s aims or ends. Lacking in straightforwardness and candor. Lightly mischievous.” Oh, how often my words have been just that!

When faced with the temptation to be sly—to hide behind our words or use them to mislead others—we need to push the pause button. Exploring the reasons for sly speech can help us to dig down deeper into our motives and save ourselves—and others—potential embarrassment.

3. Allow God’s Word to shape your heart. Proverbs 19:27 says, “Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.” When we fail to spend time ingesting God’s Word, we often spill out words that are wrong.

Spending time in God’s Word shapes our hearts—it keeps us on the path of knowledge, which includes knowing the truth behind our motives. It helps us to replace our ill will and wrong motives with the perfect will and words of God.

Let’s vow to never stop listening to biblical instruction and by doing so to keep ourselves from straying from God’s wise way.