Before I was married I would go around with the EFY program and speak around the country (and Canada). One of my talks was called “Are You a Lifter?” And the entire talk was focused around the power our words have on each other. Here are some things I shared in my talk. I hope they help you and those you love.
Elder Holland quoted Joseph Smith and said: “It is by words… [that] every being works when he works by faith. God said, ‘Let there be light: and there was light.’ Joshua spake, and the great lights which God had created stood still. Elijah commanded, and the heavens were stayed for the space of three years and six months, so that it did not rain…. All this was done by faith… Faith, then, works by words; and with [words] its mightiest works have been, and will be performed.” Then Elder Holland added, “words are sacred and must be spoken with care…” (The Tongue of Angels, Ensign, May 2007)
So if it is by words that miracles are commanded and things are created – should we not consider the power of our words in our everyday lives?
A Strong Visual Lesson
During my talk I would draw some pretty weird pictures on the board – they would all be faces with their mouths open and then I would substitute the tongue for fire on one face, then a snake on another, and put an angel’s halo on another.
I would say to the youth, “If I commissioned an abstract artist to paint a portrait of me, I wonder what they would include. Their goal is not to do a realistic portrait, but a symbolic one. So if they thought I was very wise, maybe they would fill my head with eyes, or if I wasn’t wise at all – then maybe I would have no eyes. If they drew these pictures of me on the board, what would each of these mean?”
We would then turn to James 3: 2-10 and the kids would figure out the interpretation. I am quoting from the last part of that group of scripture here:
“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
“For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
“ But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”
Poison and Fire
What does fire do? It burns and destroys. And even a little spark can turn into a great fire and be unimaginably destructive. And poison? It can also destroy and disfigure.
So if my tongue was of fire, then I burned others when I spoke with or without the intent of destroying, that is the potential result. Or a snake? I speak words that destroy from the inside. It can spread slowly but the impact is there.
Fire burns and hurts quickly and has a lasting impact. Have you ever had a burn? They can take a while to heal and it is hard to find relief from the pain. There are also varying degrees of burns. Poison can be a little more subtle. You can be bit by the deceptive snake and not realize the kind of trouble you are in.
Ask the youth and they can recall times where words have been spoken to them that have felt like that.
It would be interesting to have a conversation with the youth about the impact of our words.
Give them some scenarios and let them consider the burning or the poisonous effect it has. They could be both situations where they are doing the speaking, to times when other’s words would impact them.
Here are a few common topics – you could come up with actual scenarios:
- Gossipping about someone over something that did or did not happen
- Someone calling you “stupid” or something like that
- Swearing or words like unto them
- Words said in a cruel tone
- Cruel words said in a nice tone
- Someone attacks your testimony
- Telling someone you hate them
Not Even in Joking
I used to always point to the For the Strength of Youth Pamphlet where it says this: “How you speak says much about who you are…. Use language that uplifts encourages, and compliments others. Do not insult others or put them down, EVEN IN JOKING.”
“Even in joking” – even the best youth can be repeat offenders of this. “It is just a joke” they would say, or “they know we don’t mean it.”
I would have them turn to John 1: 41-42. This is the first meeting of Christ and Peter. Peter, like us, a disciple before he has ever met Christ – and certainly he had anticipated this moment. In fact, his brother Andrew met Christ first, and who did he run to tell? Peter! That is very telling of both the brotherly love between these faithful brothers, but also the heart and desire of Peter. Here is the exchange that followed between Peter and Christ:
“And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou are Simon the Son of Jonah: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone.”
Imagine this! First Christ immediately and outwardly expresses that he knows Peter! Imagine how this would have made Peter feel! The Messiah is approaching him in this manner! How would you feel? The Son of God, the Redeemer of man, the Creator of this world recognizes you. And Christ knows more about Peter and his potential than Peter, himself, does – and Christ does not hesitate to help Peter see it. He gives him a name “stone” or “rock” – how would Peter feel about himself after that? What, in that little moment, did that do to Peter?
So if we want to truly be Christlike we should be seeking to build and to lift. It is impossible to imagine Christ going up to his friends calling them names or insulting them just in joking. His tongue was tamed and only filled with hope and love.
Speaking as an Angel would speak
In Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk “The Tongue of Angels” he says this:
“In his deeply moving final testimony, Nephi calls us to “follow the Son [of God], with full purpose of heart,” promising that “after ye have … received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, [ye] can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels. … And … how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.” Indeed, Christ was and is “the Word,” according to John the Beloved, full of grace and truth, full of mercy and compassion.
“So, brothers and sisters, in this long eternal quest to be more like our Savior, may we try to be “perfect” men and women in at least this one way now—by offending not in word, or more positively put, by speaking with a new tongue, the tongue of angels. Our words, like our deeds, should be filled with faith and hope and charity, the three great Christian imperatives so desperately needed in the world today. With such words, spoken under the influence of the Spirit, tears can be dried, hearts can be healed, lives can be elevated, hope can return, confidence can prevail.” (The Tongue of Angels, Ensign, May 2007)
So with that final picture on the board, the hope and desire for each of us is to have tongues of angels. In James 3:2, he says: For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” So basically, if I can tame my tongue, I can tame my entire body.
I don’t think that is just about self-control. I think it is about replacing pride with charity. We care too much about others than to say, or imply, or hint at something that would be destructive.
And I think this also applies to what we say to ourselves. We can be our own worst tongues of fire.
Let me end with this poem:
Builder or Wreckers
I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho-heave-ho and lusty yell,
They swung a beam and a sidewall fell.
I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled,
As the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He gave me a laugh and said, “No indeed!
Just common labor is all I need.
I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken a year to do.”
And I tho’t to myself as I went my way,
Which of these two roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by the rule and square?
Am I shaping my deeds by a well-made plan,
Patiently doing the best I can?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town,
Content with the labor of tearing down?
If you are interested, here is the teaching package we made to go along with this lesson:
You can find this package, and read more about it, HERE.