I had a really neat conversation with a woman at Bible Study the other day. We were discussing Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” She recounted a time when she was surrounded by kids who were completely upsetting her. As she was mentally reminding herself of this command, the Holy Spirit gently spoke: Is the person who needs to be edified here you? What words do you need to hear? What are your needs? What words will give you grace as you listen to them?
This stopped her in her tracks and rerouted her thinking. She immediately started praying out loud (had she closed her eyes in silent prayer, the walls may have come down by the time she reopened them). Her prayer was not directed at the kids (as if tattling on their bad behavior to Jesus), nor praying for them to change. Her prayer was the words that she needed to hear right then- a prayer for herself to change. “Jesus, give me patience for the children You have put in my care. Help me to model Your character to them. Give me the wisdom and strength to guide them into what they need to know. Teach me patience and to guard my words.” That prayer stopped the kids in their tracks as they were so amazed at what they had just heard.
This testimony has really made me stop and think. You know, most of the day I am not hearing anyone else talking. And so that leaves a lot of room for the voice in my head to speak to me. And let me tell you, that voice does not often follow the guidelines of Ephesians! While words like “You can’t do this”, “Out of control”, or “Failed again” might not be fully formed into sentences, often that is my self-talk it. And that’s not very wholesome talk!
How do I combat that in a godly way? I think the same way I would approach changing my abusive talk towards kids who were driving me nuts.
First, I have to identify it. Just like I’d look for cues to help me notice when I was saying words that would hurt my kids, I need to pay attention to when my self-talk is abusing me. Often, I need to look at myself to see what I’m feeling at the moment. Then look closely at the words to evaluate if they are actually for good and not to mitigate my discomfort. I think that’s usually what I’m doing when I react unwholesomely to my kids- just saying the thing that will make them STOP whatever they are doing to make me uncomfortable! And that’s what my negative self-talk is designed to do also- to convince me to stop doing or being whatever makes me feel bad. But it doesn’t actually help my kids, nor myself. So I need to be aware and evaluate my words. I have to make sure that I am capturing every thought and making it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).
Second, I need to check myself. After I’ve noticed and evaluated my words, I need to mentally tell myself it isn’t okay to talk like that- I’ve been instructed otherwise. I’ve got to recognize the temptation (or sin) and ask God for help resisting it (or forgiveness and His changing grace in my life). He’s got to be involved in transforming me by the renewing of my mind (Rom. 12:2).
Finally, I need to practice replacing unwholesome talk with that which will benefit those who hear it. If I’m doing it with my kids, I might need to apologize. Or find a way to reframe what I’m saying to make sure that it is actually for their benefit. With myself, I need to pause and think What are my needs in this situation? What words will bring grace to me as I’m needy right now? Quite often, there is a promise in the Bible I can cling to when I’m needy. To remind me that my identity is in Christ, not in my success. To say that He is in control even as I feel like everything is out of my control. That He gives me strength for each new day.
And as I say these promises to myself, I can even consider speaking them out loud. Just stopping to let myself hear words that will bring me grace. And often, there is someone around me that would benefit from hearing them too. Benefit from seeing a woman, a mother, who is learning how to be more Christ-like even though she often fails. A woman who both wants to cling to God’s promises and repeat them. Because God can use my responses to bring His changing grace to anyone who hears it. Especially me.