What is my problem? Why can't I control my tongue? I'm such a failure! Thoughts like these ripped through my mind as I sat weeping in the Wal-Mart parking lot. This night alone with my husband had been nothing like what we had planned. Somehow we had found ourselves in an argument.
Somehow? My tongue had done it again. I had let one comment go, but by the time the follow-up came, I was armed and ready for battle with the sharpest tongue ever. Defensive me! I couldn't hold back. I slashed and hacked until the carnage I saw finally stopped me.
The meal at our favorite Italian restaurant was ruined.
I felt crushed, defeated, hopeless.
After the restaurant we drove to Wal-Mart to pick up a few things. I decided to remain in the car and let him go in. As I sat there, waiting for him to return, I groaned outwardly and inwardly, realizing what I had done. Again.
I rummaged through my purse until I found the piece of paper I was looking for. On it was a verse I'd been memorizing for the Bible study I was leading. Ironically, the study was about the destructive power of our words. I pulled out the paper and read it aloud: "If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil … Search for peace, and work to maintain it" (1 Peter 3:10-11). I slunk even deeper into my seat.
"God," I cried out, clutching my scrap of paper. "I can't do this! My tongue is uncontrollable! How do I make this work for me?"
I know that God's Word is a powerful weapon against sin and against the enemy of our souls and marriages. But I needed to know how to really make it work for me and my marriage. I needed to figure out what was missing.
How could I activate God's Word so it would really work not just in my life but in my marriage? After that argument and the tearful confession in the parking lot, I determined to learn all I could about using the Scriptures to the full extent of their power in order to give God control of my life and marriage.
I discovered that just as hotel room keys must be activated in order for them to work, following some basic principles helps open the door to letting God's Word effectively change me.
1. God's Word can't work if I don't use it. That night at the restaurant, I struggled with my number-one nemesis, my tongue. In the heat of the battle I had worked at seeking peace for a whoppin' five minutes … then I had let loose! I wasn't interested in thinking about what Scripture had to say to me. All I could think of was defending me. I wasn't in the frame of mind to really look within and see if there was truth in what my husband was saying. Oh no, I was too busy fueling the blaze that was scorching both of us. It took cooling-down time and introspection for me to realize what I'd done. Instead I should have prayed for God to help me listen and stay calm. And if I found myself moving into defensive action, I could have asked for a break.
2. I must remember that the heart is deceitful above all things. When issues arise, I'm my number-one fan. But my reality isn't reality at all. I'll always side with myself: the way I think, the way I interpret things or people, and the way I act. My skewed thinking is not truth. God's Word is truth! Being easily hurt or carelessly hurting others can easily be passed off as "the other person's issue." Hearts cannot be trusted!
3. I need to set myself up for success. How? I need to know my weaknesses. I need to have Scriptures available (by memory or in a handy place) so I can retrieve them when necessary. I had done that, yet when I failed to obey the verse, I allowed Satan to spray-paint a big letter L, for loser, all over my mind. Another weakness of mine is not immediately receiving God's forgiveness when I've blown it. Yet Scripture says, "But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness" (1 John 1:9). That was just what I needed that night, not self-condemnation from the enemy.
4. I need to do regular head checks. What exactly am I allowing myself to think about? Whatever I bring into my mind and ponder becomes a part of me, much like eating a peanut butter sandwich. Just as my digestive system works for hours to break down the sandwich, so my mind will work for hours to analyze and evaluate a situation until I arrive at this solution: I was right. Tah dah! Surprise, surprise! That kind of thinking only leaves me legalistic, self-righteous, and difficult to live with. I need to go back to God's Word and fill up with "what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise" (Philippians 4:8). What a life-changing moment when God showed me that verse was my "husband" verse. If the thought about my husband that flitted across my mind didn't fall into one of those categories, I needed to take it captive and yank it out of there before it could sprout roots and ultimately ruin the foundation of my marriage. That was a huge aha for me.
5. In the heat of the battle, I have to remember the fundamentals. While sitting in the car that night I wasn't looking to uncover a new, insightful verse that I'd never heard before. I didn't want to get out my Bible concordance and do a study on the tongue. I just needed the basics. I pulled out that verse, and I prayed, "Help me, Jesus." And I needed to remember that God's Word sometimes soaks in slowly.
Sometimes God doesn't take away a weakness or issue in our lives or marriages right away because he wants to continue to shape and mold our character. We have more to learn. But we can be assured that God will use the truth we are feeding our minds and souls to give us strength until we are ready to submit fully to the Holy Spirit's leading. When we continue to pursue those initial baby thoughts of truth, God eventually can take us where we need to be.
6. I need to remember that God is for me. Every circumstance, every misunderstanding, every disappointment is useful for God to develop me into the child he wants me to be. Why? He is for me. He will let nothing get in the way of his ultimate goal: to conform me to the image of his beloved firstborn. I will never be happier or more satisfied in my life or marriage than when I am most like Jesus. How does this process happen? It happens through the very precious breath of God: his whisper, his voice, his Word. "God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns" (Philippians 1:6).
7. I need to remind myself that "It is through faith that a righteous person has life." I often repeat this phrase to myself and my three teenage daughters: "What God says matters more than how I feel." We chant it together and repeat it when one of us needs that tidbit of truth. That is choosing to live by faith, not feelings. That choice can be difficult when hormones are as up and down as my black lab when visitors come over. Yet it is possible.
So how did it all work out? How did my husband and I move from the pain scale of 10 back to our normal scale of 2 or 3? The day after, we were still pretty quiet. It's amazing how a full-blown verbal battle can shut you up for a while. Early the next day, I was still limping along. I decided not to send him his "Good Morning, I love you" text which I always send. By my lunch break I had checked my messages three times. Surely he'd send me a text. Nope!
During my lunch break I got out my Bible and decided against my study on the tongue, choosing instead to read from My Utmost for His Highest . I don't remember what I read. I just know I felt a sense of peace. Here was hope. In God's Word I would find peace. In God's Word I would find truth. Yes, and in God's Word I would find conviction. But somehow this conviction didn't totally decimated me; it came in a digestible bite.
I finished my workday, and as I drove home I thought about the argument. I wasn't filled with love for my husband. I wasn't spittin' mad. I was somewhere in between. I arrived home and got supper ready for my family. We spoke a little that night. As I went to bed I prayed briefly, something like "This stinks, Lord. Help us."
The next morning I decided to text my husband. It was a simple "Good morning ." He texted back. I smiled. I knew we were on the way to healing. God in his quiet, gentle way was massaging us back together through his Word, prayer (short though it may be), and time to notice the awful consequence of not getting along.
That night after supper we were finally able to really talk. It was a quick revisit of the argument. My husband explained what he had really meant. I explained how I had felt and what I had really meant. We smiled at each other and even chuckled when one of us (okay, me) wanted to revisit a little too much. We stopped before we started round 2. We sat by each other on the couch that night enjoying the comfort of a relationship made right.
Activating God's Word is not easy, but it is doable because God has "given us everything we need for living a godly life" (2 Peter 1:3). Do you believe you have everything you need to choose his way? It's his Word. Will you use it? Will you activate it? Will you continue to struggle or choose his Word and his way? What have you got to lose … Dear Lord, help me choose you! Help me choose your truth. I believe you. Help me with my unbelief. Clean me from the inside out and make me your vessel of obedience.
Lisa Cowman has spoken at numerous ladies' retreats and conferences and has co-authored a Bible study on Esther. She lives in Quincy, Illinois, with her pastor husband and four children. Her passion is to share with other ladies all of the joy and contentment that come from "real live faith." Visit her site at reallivefath.com.