Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Words matter. The things we say can hurt or heal. The wounds can last a lifetime. There was a huge feedlot on the way out from the Denver Airport towards my grandparents farm when I was a child. Whenever we drove past the ripe aroma of all those cattle droppings, my father used to say, “Whew, David!” He thought it was funny. My five-years-older brother (who always got to sit in the front seat) certainly laughed. I was both frustrated and ashamed.
Words matter. The shame of that long-ago taunting doesn’t exactly sting, but it’s not forgotten. And there are words of kindness that linger, too. We were at a cabin, visiting friends of my stepfather. They asked me to call them by their first names. Unfortunately, my stepfather did not hear that request and, when I did so, he sharply reprimanded me. I was again frustrated and ashamed, but later they came to me and said they were sorry I had been rebuked. They should have asked my parents, they said, if it would be okay to have us children call them by their first names. That was a simple thing, but though I no longer remember who these people were, I remember the kindness.
Words matter. It is one of those places where it is easy to betray the kingdom. And when we pray not to be led into temptation – when we pray not to find ourselves in a place where we might turn away from fidelity to God and to others – we are certainly praying for help with our words. “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.”