Keep It Shut
Scripture says there is life and death in the power of the tongue. How do you cultivate life with your words? Karen Ehman offers some coaching and suggestions for taming your tongue.
About the Guest
Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker and New York Times Best-selling author. Described as profoundly practical, engagingly funny and downright real, her passion is to help women to live their priorities and love their lives as they serve God and others. Karen writes for Encouragement for Today online devotions that bring God's peace, perspective,...more
Scripture says there is life and death in the power of the tongue. Karen Ehman offers some coaching and suggestions for taming your tongue.
Keep It Shut
Bob: [Laughing] You’ve got to be accountable for what you wrote in here, now, too!
Dennis: That’s right!
Karen: I know!
Dennis: Barbara and I wrote a book about raising teenagers before we were done raising teenagers. It’s like that book kind of cried out to us as we finished the process. I’ve got a feeling this book is preaching to you regularly.
Karen: Oh, yes! And not only preaches to me as I re-read parts of it—but sometimes, when my husband and I are having a healthy, domestic discussion—
Karen: —let’s just put it that way—
Karen: —one of my children will walk through the room with that book and just hold it up right in front of their face, like: “Mom, keep it shut! Keep it shut!” [Laughter]
But, you know, the reason I wrote the book is mainly because I looked back over my life—I’m in my middle-aged years now—and I looked back over my life. I could trace every fractured friendship / every broken relationship back to something that I said.
My words, over the years, have gotten me into a lot of trouble. In the early years, it was like in middle school—gossiping / repeating things I shouldn’t have. When I was newly married, I had a lot of anger. I’m married to a very quiet man, who just sits there and takes it. I would, you know, just give enough words for both of us because I would talk, talk, talk. Sometimes, my words were angry—losing my patience with my kids when they were smaller.
I could just see the ways that my mouth had gotten me into trouble. I knew that the answers to all of life’s dilemmas are found within the Bible; so I just started digging in to find out what the Bible said about what we are to say, how we are to say it, and when we are just to keep it shut.
Dennis: And is this disease that we suffer from here only for those of us who are extroverts?
Karen: I don’t think so. No, especially with—like we were just mentioning—social media. Some very introverted people use their words in a very bad way sometimes on the internet. Those are still our words, whether we’re speaking them with our mouths or we’re typing them with our fingers, or we’re texting them to a family member.
Bob: When you went to look at what the Bible has to say--and, by the way, we’re talking to Karen Ehman, who has written a book called Keep It Shut. When you looked at what the Bible has to say about this, one of the things you found is that the lips are connected to the heart. That’s really where the problem is; right?
Karen: Absolutely. You know, Luke 6:45 says that the mouth speaks what the heart already has stored. Sometimes, we use our mouths in a wrong way / we use our words badly. Maybe we can trace some fractured friendships back to that or some heap of trouble we got ourselves into; but it’s not just really that, “Oh, I opened my mouth and out came these words!” First, they start in our heart. We dwell on them in our mind; and then, once they’ve been ruminating in there a little bit, it comes out of our mouth—and now, it’s too late / we regret what we’ve said.
I know for me, I have to tell myself, often, to make sure my heart is pure before I speak—to pause before I pounce rather than just letting it all fly—and not to say something permanently painful just because I’m temporarily ticked off. There are a lot of times that I might be temporarily upset at something one of my children did; but I can say something that’s permanently damaging to them rather than just keeping it shut, talking about it a little bit after tempers have cooled and we’ve simmered down a little bit.
Bob: Well, the verse that keeps coming back to me—and I should just mention here that, on page 75 of your book, you’ve got ten verses that you’ve pulled out that are kind of your top ten on what the Bible has to say about our speech. We’ve gotten the “okay” to list those on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. So, if our listeners are interested, they can go and just print this off and keep it posted so you can keep reviewing what the Bible has to say about this.
But the verse that I keep coming back to—that I have to remind myself of regularly—is from James, Chapter 1, which says, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” We really ought to make listening a higher priority than speaking.
Karen: Yes; absolutely. And for most of us, being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry doesn’t come naturally. I mean, for me—honestly, it’s easier for me to be slow to listen, very quick to speak, and faster than you saying, “Bolt,” to become angry. You know? I do the opposite of that! So I believe that the Lord put that verse there for us because He knew we were going to struggle with it.
Dennis: Well, let’s talk about for a moment—I want to talk about gossip, here in a second—but I want to talk about when you’ve said too much to your husband or to your child, what should a person do? I want you to illustrate this, either positively or negatively, based upon something you’ve said to your husband and how you handled it.
Karen: For me, the thing that I’ve learned the most—that I didn’t see so much, maybe, in my parents’ generation—
—I’m not trying to be stereotypical of their generation—but I don’t recall my parents apologizing much to me if things got out of hand, or they said something that they shouldn’t have, or they yelled at me. But I have made it a regular habit—both with my husband and with my kids—because just because I wrote a book on this doesn’t mean I’m perfect at it at all. I’ve made progress but have not obtained perfection and never will. The tongue can’t ever be tamed.
I don’t ever want to be too proud to go back and say: “You know what? I was out of line when I said that. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? I should have just kept my mouth shut, and thought about it, and prayed about it, and we could have discussed it later on when I wasn’t so upset. I’m sorry for my words. Will you forgive me?”
And, often, I say to my kids too, “You know, this is the first time I’ve ever been a mom.” And they’ll say, “Well, it’s the first time I’ve ever been a kid too,”—you know. [Laughter] We just have a lot of forgiveness flowing both ways at our house.
Dennis: And so, what would you say to the person who doesn’t recognize when their words are hurting? Maybe they’re attaching an attitude to the words that they’re unaware of.
They don’t understand that they’re really hurting another person with words, and they’re clueless!
Bob: Well, let me give you an illustration of what Dennis is talking about. Early in our marriage—I grew up in a home where one of the ways we showed affection to one another is by teasing each other. Well, that wasn’t the home Mary Ann grew up in. [Laughter] So I would tease her about things—only to find that, instead of laughing and feeling loved, she was hurt by what I had said. It was a part of this learning how to understand how we communicate with one another.
Sarcasm in your home has been a cause for woundedness; right?
Karen: Oh, absolutely! And I’m the queen of sarcasm—I can come up with things pretty quickly. [Laughter] But I think we need to be very open to feedback from our loved ones and to say, “Did that hurt you when I said that?” or “Did it hurt you how I said it?” or to tell them: “For me, when I tease somebody, that means that I like them! I’m sorry that didn’t come across that way to you.”
You know, I think that you are right—there are some families, where that’s just kind of how they roll.
Karen: They just kind of banter, back and forth, and they’re sarcastic; then they all laugh and split a pizza. For others—you know, it really wounds their heart because they think that you’re telling the truth—that you really mean what you’re saying—you’re not just teasing.
Dennis: So what would you say to the spouse, who’s being hurt by his or her spouse, and they don’t know their words are hurting the other person? They don’t understand how their attitude is wounding the other person. What would you say to the one who’s being wounded? How should they—I hate to use the word, “confront,” but it is a form of confrontation—saying: “Hey, I just want you to know that what you just said came across as something that really stung. It really did hurt me.”
Karen: Well, I would say the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given was by my friend, Lisa. She said to “Believe the best before you assume the worst.” So I would approach that person with that in mind: “I’m going to believe the best about you. I’m not going to assume the worst.
“I’m not going to assume that you meant to hurt me. I’m not going to assume that you like teasing me and you think it’s, you know, your pastime or your hobby. I’m going to believe the best about you. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me; but when you said this, I felt that way,” or “…when you said that, I felt this way,”—to really put the emotions back into you and how you’re feeling—and not being accusatory. Believe the best about them—they probably don’t even know that they’re doing it.
Dennis: And, if I could add, maybe pick a time that is more suitable for your words being heard by the spouse that you’re sharing how their words are hurting you. So pick your time—maybe when you’re rested—instead of the end of the day, right before you’re about to turn out the lights in your bedroom. That’s generally not a good time to have a tough conversation.
Karen: Yes, and not during the fourth quarter of a football game either.
Dennis: No. [Laughter] Or right before he has dinner. If he’s hungry, he may by a bit on-edge.
Okay, let’s talk about gossip.
Dennis: Gossip—first of all, what is gossip? I think those of us who are within the Christian community can go, “Hey, can I share a prayer request with you?” [Laughter]
Karen: Oh, yes! Oh, yes; we cloak it with a thin glaze of Jesus so it’s all spiritual now. We can share the juicy bit of information we want to share because we’re kind of cloaking it as a prayer request.
Well, you know, gossip is definitely repeating something you were told not to repeat; absolutely. Gossip is repeating something you’re pretty sure you weren’t supposed to repeat, but you were never explicitly told not to—you know, kind of in your heart, “Oh, I’m saying things that I shouldn’t.” Gossip is painting others in a negative light—it’s saying something behind their back you probably never would say to their face.
Karen: But gossip isn’t, honestly, processing a difficult situation with a trusted friend—not everyone in your calling circle, you know / everyone in your contact list of your phone—but with one trusted friend, who will help you to work through the difficultly, who will believe the best about the other person and not assume the worst, and who will help you to really pray about the situation and tackle it in a manner that honors God.
Sometimes, I think we get this notion in our brains that we can’t ever say anything about somebody if they’re not in the room—that’s talking behind their back. But if we’re just honestly trying to process, with a trusted friend, how to bring about a godly resolution to a problem, I think that’s okay.
And, obviously, if you’re asked your honest opinion about someone—if they’re applying for a job or whatever—speaking the truth, when they’re not in the room, on that application, or that phone call, or whatever—that’s not gossip.
Bob: At some level, it’s really about: “What’s the heart intent in terms of what you’re sharing—more than the words you’re sharing—because you might share one thing with a right motive / share the same information with a wrong motive. That differentiates it between gossip and trying to process something.”
Karen: Absolutely. I can tell something to a friend of mine who I know is just very much a committed person to prayer. I know that, if I share that information with them, they are going to tell no one and they are going to pray for that person. I can take that same bit of information and tell it to the town gossip and know it’s going to get all over town.
Karen: It’s really, a lot, your motive: “Why are you saying what you’re saying?”
Dennis: And one thing I’ve been learning recently is not everything I know needs to be passed on. Sometimes, I may be sharing with a friend because knowledge can be powerful; and you know something someone else doesn’t know. But in the process, you just impacted how another person is viewing, perhaps, a mutual friend.
So I’ve kind of pulled back with my own wife, Barbara; and I’ve thought, “Does she need to know what I just found out?” Now, I need to decompress about my day with her—she needs to know what happened during my day. I need to let her in to the interior of my life—but if it’s going to cause her angst / if it’s going to cause her grief, I’ve learned to measure my words so that I don’t play to a weak spot in Barbara or create one—more importantly—with my wife.
Karen: And that’s where it’s really important that we talk to God before we talk to other people and be having an ongoing prayer conversation with Him—like: “Should I say this, or should I not?” And, often, just that simple shooting up that simple little arrow prayer, and saying, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” will stop us in our tracks rather than just leaving it up to our own discretion, what we think we should and shouldn’t say, because we don’t always have the best judgment.
Bob: This is an area—this whole area of how we exercise wisdom over our tongue—is something that we need to be growing in, as grown-ups; but we also have to be teaching our kids how to tame their tongue. This is an aspect of wisdom that every child’s going to have to learn at some point. They need to see it modeled well by mom and dad, but they need to be instructed as well.
If you were to ask our kids—if you got them around the table today, and you were to ask them, “What does Proverbs 26:18-19 say?”—I think every one of them could repeat what they heard over and over again—
—which was the phrase that says, “Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who wounds his neighbor and says, ‘I was only kidding. I was only joking.’” They learned that verse because we had that rampant in our house, as our kids were growing up: “You hurt your sister!” “I was only joking! I was only kidding!” So they had to memorize that verse. We would recite it together around the dinner table, just to recognize that: “You may have been joking, but you were hurting. When your joking is hurting, you’re not doing well.”
We have to train our kids in wisdom with how they use their tongue.
Dennis: And I’ve got a great illustration of that that I want to close our broadcast with—and a passage of Scripture that you can teach your kids or you can talk about, as a couple.
But the first thing you need to do, Bob, is help some people keep it shut [Laughter] by getting a copy of Keep It Shut.
Bob: The book is called Keep It Shut, and we’ve got copies in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Dennis: We’ve been talking to Karen Ehman about controlling the tongue. I’ve got a great illustration of this, but I want to read the passage first. James 1:26: “If anyone thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart”—okay; are you ready for this?—are you ready for the conclusion?—“this person’s religion is worthless.” Worthless—that’s a pretty dramatic word, speaking of words.
Dennis: I remember, with our kids, just showing them how difficult it is to bridle the tongue by saying, “Okay; I want everybody to do what I’m about to do around the dinner table.” I say, “Now, grab your tongue; and see if you can maintain control of your tongue with your fingertips—
Bob: [Holding his tongue] Haald on tuh da tung—like dat.
Dennis: [Holding his tongue]—“an haald it.”
Bob: [Holding his tongue] Yeth. Haaald da tung.
Dennis: I[Holding his tongue] It dudn’t work! [Laughter]
Bob: [Holding his tongue] Ith a slippery—slippery little ting! [Laughter]
Dennis: We had a lot of fun with that; but it’s the idea of saying here and applying this passage: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue”—does not control what he says and think about the words he uses—“his religion is absolutely worth nothing [emphasis added].”
Bob: That’s one of the ten verses that is on your ten-verse list that we’ve got posted at FamilyLifeToday.com if our listeners want to go download it. You think that that’s a pretty powerful admonition; don’t you?
Karen: Absolutely; absolutely. So much of our life comes through our mouth in our interactions with other people. We need to be mindful of what we say.
Dennis: Have a conversation, as a couple, around how your tongue is impacting your marriage, your family, your extended family.
And maybe have a conversation with your kids about the power of the tongue.
Bob: Karen—thanks for joining us today. Again, the ten-verse list is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com if you’d like to download that.
We still have time to wish “Happy anniversary,” to Kyle and Michelle Kostreva from Clifton, Colorado. They’re celebrating 27 years together today. They’ve attended two Weekend to Remember® getaways, they’ve used Passport2Purity®—they’ve been connected to us in a number of ways. We just want to say, “Happy anniversary!” on your 27th anniversary today.
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And we hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in church this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday as we celebrate our freedom, here in the United States, on Independence Day. We’re going to hear from a former serviceman, Donovan Campbell, who has some thoughts about leadership. I hope you can tune in to listen to that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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