Last year, we studied botany. We planted a lot of seeds; we refrigerated them, stuck them in the closet, taped them to the window. What does a seed need to grow into a strong, healthy plant? Seeds need water, warmth and light. Deprive them of any one of those things, and your seed won’t grow very far.
We all know that we need to water our house plants. We know this because most of us have forgotten to water a plant once or twice – and we’ve seen the results. I would further assert that we are all aware that setting our plants on fire is a very bad thing ~ as far as the health of the plant is concerned, anyway.
Yet, when it comes to our kids – those little people we love and cherish as though they were a member of our own body – we often forget to water them. Occasionally, we set fire to our household, engulfing our children along with it.
Not long after Jesus died, a man named James wrote a letter to Jewish believers. In it, James spends a few paragraphs talking about the tongue. He tells the believers (and now us): “But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” (James 3:5b,6)
I would argue that the tongue can also be an incredible tool. With our tongues, we can give life, watering and nurturing those we care for. Through our speech, we can point our children to Jesus. With our words, we can convey their intrinsic worth. We can assure our children that they are created for a purpose, on purpose. With the words of our mouths, we can communicate our unconditional love.
On the other hand, our words have the power to cut, to wither and to burn. How many times have I cast out a careless criticism and seen the pain in my precious child’s eyes? How many times has the tone of my voice cut my child to the bone?
Friends, our tongues do, indeed, have the power to set our whole lives on fire. James also said: “Indeed, we all make mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.” (James 3:2) Ouch. I want to control my tongue, but I – like all of you – make mistakes.
So what are we, loving parents who want to nurture our children, to do?
- The tongue is an outflow of our hearts, right? If we are to encourage, build and nurture our children with our words, our hearts must be right before God. Spending time in prayer and the Bible is the best way I know of to surrender my heart to the Lord.
- When we sin, we are called to repentance. This means I must apologize sincerely to my children for my words. As a wife, I also owe an apology to my husband for criticizing my children, as well. Nothing changes my behavior faster than knowing I’ll be speaking to Ed about it!
- We can look for opportunities to build and encourage our children. Find even the tiniest seedling of character and praise it. Look for moments of successful, godly behavior and tell the other parent – in front of your child. Bless your child, frequently and loudly.
Let this generation of parents and grandparents, our generation, be known as the generation that used our tongues for good, rather than for evil. Let us be the parents and grandparents who used the words of our mouths to build our houses, rather than to set them aflame.
~ Danika Cooley
Danika Cooley is the author of When Lightning Struck! The Story of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 2015), Wonderfully Made (CF4K, 2016), and Bible Road Trip. Her work has been featured in internationally-recognized children's magazines over 150 times.