As I sleepily sipped my coffee and began putting mascara on, Benjamin said something to me about his toys. Half-listening and focused more on my make-up than my son, I said, "Oh yea, that's a great boat..." Benjamin quickly corrected me, saying, "Dada says it's a ship."
"That's right," I said (not really knowing the difference, but not really caring either).
A couple minutes later, my talkative toddler said something else about his toys and without thinking, I said, "Hmmm.... yeah that's a nice boat..." A second time, my son said, "It's a ship." Glancing quickly at his reflection in the mirror while continuing my routine, I said, "Oh yeah that's right..."
A few more minutes passed and believe it or not, this happened a third time - Benjamin telling me about his toys, me half-awake answering him with, "That's a great boat..." But this time, he yelled back at me, "MOM!" I quickly turned around to see what was wrong only to see my son holding his toy up and looking at me with frustration as he said, "Can you say SHIP?"
The Bible says, "The tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles" (James 3:5)! My exchange with my son is quite small in comparison to some of the firestorms that have started with just a few words. Countries go to war and couples go to divorce court over mere words. The tongue is a weapon, that's for sure.
"A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can set off a forest fire. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it... This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can't tame a tongue - it's never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women He made in His image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth" (James 3:6-10, Message)!
I am always amazed at how quickly I can go from being spiritually peaceful and joyful to irritated and convicted by this little thing called a tongue. "We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong" (James 3:3-4, New Living). But we can't tame the tongue? How I wish we could!
I still don't know the difference between a boat and a ship, other than one is small and used for fishing and waterskiing, while the other is much bigger and usually found on the ocean. But I could know their differences if I chose to study them. In the same way, if I care about the things that defile my life and grieve the Holy Spirit, I can learn. The Bible says, "He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit" (1 Peter 3:10).
I may not be able to perfectly tame my tongue, but I can choose my words. Jesus said it starts with what we put in our heart - meaning, the things we meditate on and allow before our eyes or in our ears. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34).
As I choose to make God's Word a priority in my life, one of the benefits is an overflow from my heart to my mouth. "For he who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit" (Proverbs 17:27). If I'd had more knowledge on "ships" I wouldn't have upset my young son. Likewise, as I gain understanding about the tongue and the various ways it can defile me (and grieve God), I am less likely to upset others or be the cause of strife.
My words can be vain, irritating, hasty, irreverent, insincere, proud, and malicious; OR my words can be modest, helpful, sincere, respectful, humble, and kind.
And like the fierce winds that oppose a ship on the open sea, I can use the rudder in my mouth to maneuver peacefully through tough conversations or perceived attacks.
So, although I'm bound to be careless with my words at some point or another, it's what I choose to keep in my heart that keeps me from recklessly starting a fire. I am the vessel and my tongue is the blade that adjusts my direction.
Can you say SHIP?