The power of our words—particularly for us as parents—is well-known. We probably all have memories of derisive words that have cut us down at critical times, or of encouraging words that have spurred us on. Yet the Bible tells us that it is very difficult to control our speech (see James 3:1-12). Try as we might, we all have moments when we give a tongue-lashing to a child that accomplishes little but wounding a sensitive spirit.
Our words, both negative and positive, are a reflection of our inner heart condition: “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). It follows that if we want our speech to reflect God’s love and grace, our hearts must be right with Him.
God has worked on me a lot in this area over time. Slowly but surely, we’ve eliminated yelling…and undue criticism…and even what my husband would jokingly refer to as my “growling”—that grunt of displeasure that I couldn’t help but voice when things just suddenly got to be “too much.” Not that we are now perfect in this area, but we’ve definitely matured a great deal and drawn closer to God’s ideal.
I don’t say this to condemn or convict, but simply to set the stage for a story of God’s continued refinement of my heart—and mouth—through life’s circumstances.
Our three-year-old daughter recently broke her leg and had to have both legs and torso in a cast for an estimated six weeks. Needless to say, this forced some dramatic changes to our family of seven. I discovered muscles I forgot existed as I learned how to lift and carry Rebekah from wheelchair to the toilet, to the van, to the couch… and to bed. I realized that, for a season, my time would not be my own. Between the nursing infant, the potty-training toddler, the wheelchair-bound Rebekah, and my two homeschooling older children, I would not even get an opportunity to begin a new task before being interrupted.
Of course, suddenly in this time I was also experiencing sleep deprivation. It started with the all-nighter at the hospital, then our baby (who had been sleeping through the night) was suddenly waking up twice a night to nurse. Once she awoke at 4:30 AM for a feeding, I found it impossible to go back to sleep for “just another hour.” Rebekah would also wake up repeatedly, crying or needing something. Even our toddler was getting out of bed or waking up cold and wanting covers. It seemed impossible to catch up on sleep! Most parents know what havoc is wrought by exhaustion…and it seemed there was no end in sight. Our family balance had become more elusive than ever.
Yet I was mindful of these things and, above all, sought to remain close to the Lord. When I awoke early in the morning, my first activity was to pray and read my Bible. I cultivated a stronger thought-life of prayer throughout each day. I also meditated on encouraging Scriptures. All in all, God’s grace was amazingly sufficient to keep us on a straight path in a time of comparative trial.
So what’s the story in all this? God showed me that although my mouth was generally cooperative in this season of life, there was one area of weakness. No, I didn’t “growl” (but once or twice in the first days)…but I found myself doing an incredible amount of sighing. Yes, sighing. Why, you ask, is this at all significant? Because a sigh is as telling as any other form of speech. It is just another verbal expression that conveys an inner condition of the heart.
I looked up “sigh” on Dictionary.com and found it defined as, “To exhale audibly in a long deep breath, as in weariness or relief.” Certainly, my sighing in this instance was of weariness: physical and mental exhaustion. Further, weariness is described as “having one’s interest, forbearance, or indulgence worn out.” All true!
When I would covet those few minutes of time to sit down and rest, inevitably I would be interrupted. (Sigh). When I would begin nursing the baby, suddenly Rebekah needed to go to the bathroom—and I’d have to interrupt the baby’s feeding and listen to her screaming for the next ten minutes of “potty duty.” (Sigh). Everyone was picking up the slack for Rebekah’s suddenly undone chores and keeping her profitably occupied with food, drink, and entertainments at her small table. (Sigh). In the middle of all this, the toddler was having potty accidents. (Sigh). The phone was ringing and it was important (Sigh). You get the picture.
What God showed me through this is that I even needed to control my sighing if I was going to progress in my spiritual maturity and keep a healthy tone in our home. Ouch! Some Scriptures that really helped me to attack my “weariness” of heart so that my sighing would be, at least, reduced were Matthew 11:28-30 and Isaiah 40:29-31. Ultimately, God reminded me that if I am truly looking to Jesus, I will not become weary in well-doing, for in everything I am serving Him and bringing Him glory and honor.
Philippians 4:4-9 (AMP) gave me some good “action steps” to help me maintain a right heart and, by extension, right speech (with no sighing!):
Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, gladden yourselves in Him]; again I say, Rejoice!
Let all men know and perceive and recognize your unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit). The Lord is near [He is coming soon].
Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God.
And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them].
Practice what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and model your way of living on it, and the God of peace (of untroubled, undisturbed well-being) will be with you.
What is the key, then? For me, it was simply to follow the instructions in the passage above:
• Rejoice! Try to maintain a positive attitude of praise.
• Focus on others more than self
• Pray at all times, with thanksgiving
• Focus on the good at all times
• Persevere in living the way that God wants me to live, in spite of life’s challenges
Even in the area of sighing, I’ve still not arrived. But God has been faithful and gracious, and I’m making progress. I hope you will be challenged to do the same. The atmosphere of your home, your relationships with your husband and children, and even your walk with God, all hinge upon your willingness to be obedient to His Word. As you do your part, He will do His! Even in something as relatively inaudible, and seemingly insignificant, as a (sigh).
Cynthia Carrier is the homeschooling mom of six children and author of The Growing Homeschool: Integrating Babies and Toddlers into Your Already Busy Schedule and the audio seminar, Defeating Depression: Cooperating with God to Experience Victory over Negative Emotions. She also has written, with her husband, Marc, The Values-Driven Family: A Proactive Plan for Successful Biblical Parenting and Values-Driven Discipleship: Biblical Instruction and Character Training Manual. For more information about these resources, for fresh inspiration on your family journey, or to find practical helps—including articles and dozens of FREE DOWNLOADS—visit www.ValuesDrivenFamily.com.