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Like fire from a dragon’s belly the flame spews out and sets ablaze the character of the person talked about.  I watch it burn, the flame leaping from one tongue to the next. But the flame is not started by a dragon; it is started from something much smaller, much more real, and much more deadly. It comes from me and it burns me too.

James had it all right when he says the tongue sparks a flame that burns a forest. Everything in its path is destroyed, including a piece of me.

I’ve tried like so many others to contain the fury in my mouth, the tiny spark that sets it in motion. I have bit my tongue until it bleeds, covered my mouth with my hands, walked away from people and prayed- always praying- to not have such a quick tongue. Like the serpent in the garden, the tongue flicks and destroys.  I don’t consider myself a gossiper but I have gossiped at one point or another and this is enough to place the label on me whether it is what other people call me or not.

Sin calls you a lot of names in the dark.

The past few months have brought challenges to me as to whether or not I hold my tongue or just let it fly and say what I feel. My feelings have been hurt and I have had frustrations and really who doesn’t experience this and it is no excuse. Yet these past few months I have been provoked to consider if it is worth speaking my mind or talking back or about someone or if I should keep biting my tongue.  For someone who used to pride herself on sarcasm and quick wit it has not been easy.

But the more I study and have things revealed to me about the power of my words, the more the proverbial slap in the face hurts. I look at the speck in others and think, “oh yeah, that is so-and-so” when all this time it was my beam too.

And I get it. I get why the Jews use words so similar to each other in sound and spelling to mean both slander and leprosy.  It starts off small, barely noticeable, then grows and becomes apparent, contagious– spreading rapidly even when we don’t see it- and it eventually pushes people away and you are left to lick your own wounds and marred character and in the end it does more damage to you then the person you spoke about.

The truth always comes out.

And the Jews take it a step further and advise not to speak any negative truths, anything that will bring harm to another person. This book explains it all and calls it having a “Kosher mouth.”  After reading it I know I need to bring offerings to the altar to be forgiven, I need to shut my mouth and think, really think, it over before I say something.

I have always had a love for words. I love the way they can describe almost anything- a place, a thought, an emotion- and how words in other languages describe things we cannot in our language or vice versa.  How words can take a moment and forever memorialize it, such as making you smell the delicate scent of a rose, feel its velvety petals, see its crimson red. How some things are just too raw to be put in words but the words can evoke that emotion, that thought, such as the joy and wonder of birth or the speechlessness and eerie silence of U.S. military walking through an emptied concentration camp. There are no perfect words for these moments but there is still a connection to the emotion through description.

But words are more than just describing life. They are life. They have the ability to build up or tear down, curse or bless, encourage or despair, worship or blame. God spoke everything into being, used the two simplest words to describe Who He is -I Am- and it was more than enough to describe Him Who calls Himself the Word. If we are made in His image, given the gift of words by Him, what power do we hold in this small muscle, this tongue that forms and shapes and puts forth those words? Words that once spoken we can never get back?

The power of life and death slips carelessly through our mouths every day. Each formed word on the lip has the potential to bring hope or despair- each typed letter bringing forth the ability to create or destruct. My love for words comes with great consequence.

Have I been able to successfully stop every ill-spoken word that comes to my mouth? No. Not even close. But I am reminded to be cautious, to speak in love and if I can’t then to lock the jaw tight. It takes time to change habits, especially bad ones, and to refrain from speaking of those I have grown accustomed to speak of without thinking.

It can be an ugly thing, the tongue. But it can also be beautiful, producing words of Life and Truth when we truly live in the image of the Word. And that is my prayer lately, to speak the Word of Life, to put fires in the souls and not burn with my words. Set afire spirits for God, not singeing characters and self-destructing with flames of uncontrolled speech.

The tongue is hard to tame. But I don’t want to be a leper and I don’t want to be someone that can’t be trusted.  No more words not first thought out. No more weighing and measuring the consequence of what I say. No more setting fires.