“Mom, you are making me feel dumb” my son said quietly.
I drew in a quick breath and exhaled. My heart was pierced by his words. I looked over at my son. He stood there staring at me, the hurt stretched across his young face. I had just repeated an instruction to him for the third time because the first two times he didn’t seem to understand. Yet I didn’t simply restate the instruction, my tone was condescending and belittling.
“I’m sorry I spoke to you that way. You are not dumb. Will you forgive me?” I responded, hugging him close.
My son is eight and our conversation was deeply convicting. It was the first time he had ever voiced to me how my speech makes him feel. I wondered how often during his young life my words and tone have belittled him. It wasn’t that long ago that I realized how much I sigh audibly when I am annoyed by something my children do. No doubt, God is at work in me, using my role as a mother to show me my sin.
Why Words Matter
We all have memories embedded deep in our heart of hurtful things people have said to us. James says that “with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing” (James 3:9–10.) I could read this passage and think, “well I don’t curse anyone, so this doesn’t apply to me.” But I’d be wrong. While I would never think to call my children names, my very tone and body language can communicate that they are a nuisance, that I am annoyed with them, that they are unimportant, and yes, even dumb.
In the Power of Words and the Wonder of God, Sinclair Ferguson says, “How we use our tongues provides clear evidence of where we are spiritually.” Jesus said something similar when he said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). My responses to my children, whether it is with actual words or even just the tone of my voice, reveal the condition of my heart. This conversation with my son led to deep conviction by the Spirit, as it should. When I consider how powerful the tongue is and the depth of responsibility I have as a Christian to use it to glorify God, I am overwhelmed. I begin to despair and wonder if I can ever change. But Ferguson reminds me of this truth,
Nobody — Jesus excepted — has succeeded in mastering the tongue! Our only hope as we pursue the discipline of self that leads to mastery of the tongue is that we are Christ’s and that we are being made increasingly like him. But this battle for vocal holiness is a long running one, and it needs to be waged incessantly, daily, hourly.
Cleansed in Christ
My only hope in my battle against this sin is Jesus Christ, my Savior and Redeemer. As the Spirit continues to use my parenting to reveal to me my sin, I am reminded anew of my great need for a Savior. It is because of my sin that Jesus came to die as a substitute in my place. While many in our world may think that the use of a sarcastic tone or a simple irritated sigh is no big deal, to a holy and righteous God — it is a big deal. Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Isaiah says that even our so called ‘good acts’ are as filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). I am a woman with unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips. And without Jesus to cleanse them, I would be forever lost in my sin, never to stand in the presence of God.
This conviction of my sin leads me to repentance. Not only do I need to ask forgiveness from my son, but most importantly, I need to repent to God. David prayed regarding his own sin, “against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). All sins, including verbal sins, are ultimately sins against God. It is only through the gospel of grace through Jesus Christ that I am cleansed and where David’s prayer comes true, “create in me a clean heart oh God and renew a right Spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Because of Christ, I can now “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16).
Toward Only One Accent
The more my heart is saturated by the truths of the gospel, the more I remember just who I am because of Christ. I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). I have been given the Spirit who is actively at work in me, transforming me to be more like Christ. Part of that work of transformation involves conviction of sin by the Spirit, followed by repentance, and application of the gospel to my heart over and over again. As Martin Luther once said, “the entire life of believers is one of repentance.”
Just as God’s word tells me of my sin, my need for a Savior, and the story of his plan to redeem me from sin; it is also his word which the Spirit uses to change me. The more I ingest the word, the more it overflows from my heart. As David said in Psalm, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). Ferguson, once again, put it this way, “The most important single aid to my ability to use my tongue for the glory of Jesus is allowing the word of God to dwell in me so richly that I cannot speak with any other accent.”
And it is to that end that I pray.