By Amy Simon
“Will you guys hurry up?” “Stop fighting!” “Cut it out!” “Why do you have to act like that?” As a stay-at-home mother of three kids, it’s easy to find myself frequently shooting barbs of irritated and impatient words at my children. I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until one day I stepped back and listened to myself.
Kids are known to do things that make their parents upset, but I was ashamed at how often I sounded so negative. That made me irritated at myself, not just at them! I tried to be more positive, patient, and gentle, but I couldn’t keep it up. I still felt stressed and annoyed and it came out in what I said and how I said it to my kids. I’d get frustrated with myself for my failures, leaving me feeling depressed and defeated. My feelings weren’t helping me become a kind, positive mom, either.
Then one Sunday our minister referred to Matthew 12:34 which states, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Ouch! My mouth was speaking a lot of annoyance, irritation, and impatience. What did that say about what was in my heart?
Maybe I wasn’t having success cleaning up my mouth because the problem was in my heart. I looked at some other Scripture verses, like Matthew 15:17, 18, where Jesus told the Pharisees that what goes into our bodies isn’t what makes us unclean, but rather what comes out. The things that come out of our mouths are from our hearts. Apparently, I needed to wash my heart, not my mouth.
How do we clean our hearts? What can you do if you struggle with “muck” coming from your mouth? I don’t have it all figured out, but I believe I’ve made some progress. Here are some steps I took to clean things up from their source—my heart.
Identify Major Problems
My first step was to identify the poor attitudes and reactions that came out most often. I asked my kids and husband to help me identify problem areas. Frustration and irritation were the big ones at my house. How about you? Maybe sarcasm is the issue, or bitterness, anger, or complaining. Take a step back and listen to yourself for a while to hear more objectively what comes out of your mouth. Ask the people closest to you to help you identify problem areas. You might even try recording yourself for a time. Sometimes we’re so used to talking certain ways that it’s hard to stop and really hear what we’re saying.
The next thing I did was to confess my sin to God and ask for his help in turning things around. I acknowledged my words and attitudes as sin and thanked God for his forgiveness. I spent time journaling and praying over the sources of those attitudes. Why did I feel frustrated and stressed out so much? Did I have unrealistic expectations regarding my children, myself, and my accomplishments? Was a lack of organization causing stress? I prayed for solutions to the root issues. I found that too much caffeine and sugar made me more stressed. I also needed to find better ways to plan ahead so I wouldn’t be caught off guard needing to do more in a day than I had the time and energy to do. Having to run to the grocery store at the last minute with three kids because I forgot a dinner item can be very stressful and frustrating!
Even with the best planning, life can be stressful. I prayed for a more relaxed approach to the day and for the ability to accept interruptions with grace and humor rather than anxiety and annoyance. Sometimes the best solution is a deep breath and choosing to use a quiet, kind voice.
Getting to the Root
If you deal with outbursts of anger, what causes them? I’ve found many times that if I’m anxious about something, I can quickly become angry and frustrated with my kids, even if they haven’t done anything wrong. At such times I need to stop, apologize to them and to the Lord, and then lay my anxiety at the foot of the cross.
If you find yourself using biting sarcasm, what could be causing that? Sarcasm seems to come frequently from feeling bitter and discontent. Perhaps somewhere along the way you feel you’ve been forgotten or passed over. Others have gotten things you deserved. Our problems with our words need to be addressed by dealing with their source. Prayer and journaling can be great ways to listen not only to our words, but to our hearts. Talking with a close friend can also be a valuable way of working through issues in our lives. Search the Scriptures for wisdom in your situation. Depending on the depth of what you’re struggling with, talking with a minister or counselor might also be beneficial.
The final step is repentance. To repent means to turn in the opposite direction. I needed not only to agree with God that my words and attitudes were wrong, but choose to turn away from them and make better, God-honoring choices. Many times this involves accountability and regularly checking in with someone about how this area is going. Other struggles might require forgiving someone or choosing thankfulness over bitterness. Spending time in God’s Word will cement in our hearts what is true about us and about God. If you find verses that speak to what you struggle with, memorizing them can help you stay on track.
In order to see growth in this or any other area of our spiritual lives, we need to partner with God. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, New King James Version). Christ gives us strength to correct sinful attitudes and reactions. At times God may quickly remove a difficult struggle from our lives and heal us. Most of the time, though, he wants us to participate in our spiritual growth though praying, studying his Word, and making good choices.
Change takes time. Don’t get frustrated with yourself if your heart and words aren’t cleaned up all at once. Just keep going through the steps of confessing sin and asking for God’s help to make better choices.
I haven’t arrived in this area. It’s a continual process of working with the Lord to turn my speech problem into something more pleasing to him and beneficial to those around me. I pray that you will find victory in this area of life as well.
Amy Simon is a freelance writer from Jackson, Wisconsin.
Guard Your Heart—Watch Your Mouth
While this process seems simple, it’s one most of us fail at daily. Purifying our hearts and our speech takes relentless effort. Take time to think and pray through these basic steps.
1. Pray for help. We can’t triumph over sin without God’s help—and keeping a God-honoring mouth is a particularly tough challenge.
2. Watch your intake. If you only spend time with people with foul mouths and only read books that attack the purity of your heart, you’re bound to struggle more.
3. Train your mind. Read and memorize Scripture. Spend time with people who build you up and read books that fill your mind and heart with godly content.
4. Set goals. Make an effort to give your spouse two intentional sentences of affirmation each day. Point out every good choice your child makes. These goals may feel false at first, but they’ll begin to retrain your mind and your mouth.
5. Seek accountability. Ask someone to help you with your particular problems and goals in this area. They can tell you when your speech isn’t pure or you’re interrupting others.