Taming the tongue

The human tongue might be considered the world's original publishing company. It publishes a good deal that is useful. On the other hand, we are not always happy with what it publishes—such as untruths, cutting remarks, tasteless humor, gossip.

Who among us haven't had occasion to regret the words we've spoken—wished we could take them back and change them, or erase them altogether? Wouldn't we all like to get better control of our own tongue and be happier with the quality and quantity of what we say to others? There is a way to tame our tongues to publish only what is truly beneficial. It starts with listening.

Everyone likes to hear good news. And the best news we can ever hear is actually coming to us all the time. It is the message of Christ, Truth, speaking to our consciousness, telling us of the goodness and allness of God and of the likeness to God we have as His spiritual reflection. This message is the truth of spiritual being "that bringeth good tidings" to troubled human hearts, "that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation" from tumult and disease in human lives (Isa. 52:7). We hear this healing and saving message when we listen mentally, that is, when we turn our thoughts toward God with a sincere desire to receive what He is imparting.

Listening to God, or praying, is often thought of as taking place when we are alone. But it can, and should, also take place while we are interacting with family members, friends, or others. This involves quietly giving Truth and Love an opportunity to shape our thoughts even while others are talking to us, so that we can respond in a way that will be most helpful to everyone. In this regard, I often think of these verses in the Bible: "As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy" (I Pet. 1:15, 16).

The Greek word translated conversation here means "behavior." It refers to everything we do, the entire conduct of our lives. including what we say. We want to be listening to what Christ is telling us of our and others' true nature as God's reflection—sinless, healthy, and beautiful—and let this be what is repeated (published, or made known publicly) in the way we conduct ourselves. We neglect this kind of listening at our own expense. And one of the easiest times to be neglectful is when we are conversing with others socially—on the telephone, across the backyard fence, over lunch, at the market, at a party, at a meeting during a break, or even at church after a worship service.

At times like this, our spiritual listening sometimes gets put on hold. Conversation drops to the level of merely rehearsing personal difficulties (our own, family members', or others'), health problems (or disease in general), personal opinions that lead to misunderstanding, and so on. Then, later we regret what we've put into circulation. We wish we'd held our tongue, wish we'd been more watchful, wish we'd guided the conversation in a more productive direction. They say we can't take back what we've said. Yet, we can—through prayer that leads us to new and appropriate, God inspired thoughts, words, or actions. And we can devote ourselves right now to being more alert—to watching, when we are interacting with others, that we keep our spiritual listening active and not let it slip into idle.

Here is a statement I find to be a useful guide: "People with mental work before them have no time for gossip about false law or testimony. To reconstruct timid justice and place the fact above the falsehood, is the work of time" (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 238).

The mental work we have to do is to gather into our thought the facts of spiritual being and place them above the falsehoods of material belief. Why? Because the imprint of Truth in human consciousness ensures progress, health, and holiness in human lives. Therefore, this work, or prayerful thinking, isn't something we can afford to put on hold, giving "false law or testimony" time and space to be published in our thoughts and lives. No, listening to Truth and letting it guide our thoughts and words is a full-time job. There's no getting around it; we can't listen to Truth and voice error at the same time.

The answer, then, to taming our tongues is to devote ourselves more consistently and more alertly to the work of gathering spiritual facts into our thought and letting them guide us into healthy conversation and conduct. In proportion as we do this work, we'll be happy with what we publish, and so will others. Our tongues will be servants of Christ, Truth. We'll be publishers of salvation—because we listen to what Truth is communicating to us and live it.

Barbara M. Vining

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