“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Proverbs 12:18

“The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” Proverbs 15:4

Early in our marriage, my wife and I agreed on this simple, biblical idea: words count. I can’t recall if we came to it after a disagreement, or by watching couples hurt each other, but it seems Solomon had this figured out a few millennia ago.

Reckless words pierce like swords and perverse ones crush the spirit, he warned, but soothing ones bring life and wise ones heal.

Maybe these verses underscore the obvious, but so often we treat words like computer bytes — weightless and dimensionless, and therefore harmless. Perhaps we have accepted the lie that sticks and stones break bones, but words cannot hurt us.

Leading marriage researcher John Gottman observed that couples most prone to divorce are likely to pepper their talk with criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling (giving the silent treatment).

“Can’t you do anything right?” criticizes someone’s behavior and gouges their soul.

“Don’t blame me! I did nothing wrong!” dodges responsibility behind a wall of defensiveness.

“I hate you! How could you be so mean?!” tells the truth with damaging contempt.

“I have nothing to say to you!” may lead to hours — or days — of aching silence.

In the academic study of communication, such phrases are called “speech acts” because they “do” something to our spirits. They are worse than sticks and stones, for they puncture our heart like an enemy’s spear causing us to bleed emotionally and relationally. 

Our words count, for they either tear down and wound, or build up and heal. Are you choosing life-giving language?

God, You brought this world together by speaking it into existence, and like You I may create universes of care, love, and encouragement in people around me. Help me choose nourishing, soul-growing things to say to people around me. Amen.

Take Action

Write a list of compliments that you would love to hear from someone else. Try them on a few people around you and see how they respond.



Tags: Proverbs 12 words