Wise words rarely happen on little sleep.
I remember one evening my husband Josh made dinner for me while I was exhausted and pregnant. Being from Pennsylvania, he had a few quirks that I felt I needed to work out of him over dinner that particular night. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: “Can you stop holding your spoon like a caveman and start eating like a normal human?”
Josh: [adjusting spoon in silence]. “Do you want me to do the laundry tonight?” he said in his thickest Pennsylvania accent.
Me: [in a raised voice] “Holy Pennsylvania! Put the accent away!”
Yeah. Not one of my better moments or use of words.
Shortly after our daughter was born, my parents drove down from Canada to help us adjust to our demanding, screaming newborn baby girl. I was tired. Josh was tired. Our marriage was tired. We were barely surviving.
One evening, I remember my mom sharing a passage with us she used in raising my siblings and I:
“A house is built on wisdom, and it is established by understanding; by knowledge the rooms are filled with every precious and beautiful treasure” (Prov. 24:3-4, CSB).
As we were about to settle in for another sleepless night, I wondered how this verse applied to the practicalities of taking care of screaming, thankless infants. If a house is built on wisdom, where’s the wisdom in smelly diapers and sleepless nights?
After a bit of study, we learned the word wisdom in this verse is not a philosophical term but a practical one. The Hebrew word is used frequently throughout the Old Testament to describe the hands-on work of ants, locusts, and even lizards. Though not all that smart, they are wise by how they live.
Josh and I learned how quickly the climate of our marriage could change by our words and tone of voice with one another. We also began to see how speaking calmly to our kids changed their reaction too, which is what led us to our work on becoming emotionally safe parents.
No wonder the Bible says that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21, CSB).
Josh and I started to use James 3:17-19 as a way to measure how we speak to and treat one another and our kids:
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense.”
These verses can be a litmus test for how much you’re growing in wisdom, how you’re responding to your kids, and in what ways you’re speaking to your spouse. In fact, when we speak at marriage retreats together, we have a handout with the following exercise.
Consider the first characteristic of wisdom described in the passage: pure. As you speak to your spouse or your kids—no matter the circumstance—are you doing so with a pure heart, speaking words that you know are best for the one you love?
Below, you’ll see the list of characteristics along with a few questions. On a scale of one to ten (ten being the best), measure yourself according to each of these questions.
If you’re really brave, give this list to your spouse or children and ask them to rate you!
Am I pure in thought, word, and deed toward my spouse? Am I championing his/her heart by the words I use?
Am I pure in thought, word, and deed toward my kids? Am I championing their hearts by the words I use? Or do lusts of the world (parental agendas, work, money, etc.) occupy that space?
Am I approaching my spouse—his quirks, the time she takes to get ready, his work schedule, her social media time, his disrespectful attitude—in a peaceable tone of voice?
Am I approaching my kids when they are at their worst, most fearful, scared, angry, even disrespectful moments, in a peaceable tone of voice?
Am I gentle in how I talk to, communicate, and help my spouse?
Am I gentle in how I talk to, set limits with, discipline, and help my children?
Do I use reasonable words with my spouse when we don’t see eye to eye?
Are my words reasonable and is my heart understanding with my children when we don’t see eye to eye?
Full of Mercy
Are my words full of mercy or do I hold my spouse’s mistakes and past behaviors against him/her?
Are my words full of mercy or am I holding my children’s mistakes and past behaviors against them? Consider Psalm 103:9 (CSB): “[God the Father] will not always accuse us.”
Am I becoming more kind, giving, patient, loving, self-controlled, and joyful in the words I use toward my kids and spouse?
Is my speech respectful of all persons in our extended families, showing no favoritism that causes strife?
Am I speaking to each of our kids individually in our home in the same manner, showing no favoritism?
Does my speech match the attitudes and words I expect of my spouse and kids?
Wisdom is measured over time. If you find yourself not growing in speech with those you love, the Bible says to simply ask for it (James 1:5). Start tonight by praying with your spouse and kids for wisdom as you get settled into bed.
And if possible, get some sleep. It really helps!