I like to play golf. Don’t play it very well, but still enjoy smacking the ball around. Golfers like me use mulligans occasionally. A mulligan is a do-over: I hit a bad shot, and with permission from my fellow golfers, I pretend that shot never happened, and then I hit another shot with no penalty. Mulligans are the hacker’s best friend. However when it comes to our words… there are no mulligans.
Words matter. What person alive today hasn’t felt the negative impact of undeserved, untrue, and un-thought out words? Similarly, who hasn’t been helped by encouraging words coming from a dear friend at just the right time? Words, once spoken, can never be retrieved. We can’t use mulligans. We can’t pretend the words never happened.
The influence of our words is more potent and long-lasting than we imagine. They have the power to bring life or kill. To build up or tear down. To heal or wound. To encourage or discourage. James 3:8 tells us the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
Words play a critical role in relationships. How many marriages are wrecked by unkind, unfair, and un-called-for words? Apologies help but remember: when it comes to words, there are no mulligans. Apologies don’t remove the effect of poorly chosen words. Ever been lied about by someone you considered a friend? Even if they apologized, your relationship with them probably changed from that moment on. All because of words.
Let’s face it: We all struggle occasionally with words. We say things we shouldn’t say. We use inappropriate tone. We communicate rejection with our body language. And our relationships suffer.
So what can we do about it? Is it possible to get better with words? To leverage their power in a positive way? Here are some things we can do before we speak:
Psalm 141:3 says: “Lord set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” And Psalm 19:14: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, oh Lord…” These scriptures would be good to pray every morning before we speak to another human. “God help me to speak when I’m supposed to and be quiet when I’m not. Help me to be kind and gracious when I do speak.”
Ask yourself: “Will these words I’m about to say build up or tear down? Heal or wound? Bring life or kill?” Before speaking, zip it for 30 seconds… and think. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a minute and ask yourself, “If someone said this to me, how would I react?” Careless words spoken in anger or frustration damage relationships—sometimes permanently.
When it comes to our speech… garbage in… garbage out. What we feed on eventually spews out of our mouths. Our heart is the fountain of our speech. If you’re struggling with words, watch your intake. I think the more time we spend hanging out with Jesus, the more control we’ll gain over our tongue.
Sometimes we try to use an apology as a crutch for our careless words. We think, “Oh they’ll forgive me; they always do.” Before we speak, it helps to understand that apologizing doesn’t undo the damage caused by words. It doesn’t reinstate trust. We can’t use an apology as way of pretending our hurtful words never happened. Jesus said: “Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning.” (Matthew 12:36 MSG)
Our words matter. They’re powerful. Use them wisely, and good things usually follow. Use them poorly, and well… you know what happens. When it comes to words. there are no mulligans.