What is the greatest weakness in most families? According to Dr. James H. Bossard, a former professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who spent 40 years probing what he called "neglected areas of family life," it is the way parents talk in front of their children.
After studying extensive recordings of table talk, he wrote, "I had no idea I would discover a real pattern in the [mealtime] conversation of families. I just wanted to learn what families talked about, but to my amazement I have found that family after family had definite, consistent conversational habits, and that the critical pattern was the most prevalent.
"These families rarely had a good word to say about anyone. They carped continuously about friends, relatives, neighbors—almost every aspect of their lives, from the lines of people in the supermarket to the stupidity of their bosses.
"This constant negative family atmosphere had a disastrous effect on the children, because a high percentage of [these families'] children were antisocial and unpopular. And this pattern of the family's hostility many times turned to quarreling amongst themselves. Without fail, their meals were a round of insults and bickering. The children absorbed that pattern, and it caused the children trouble.
"Long ago," Dr. Bossard continued, "a great Teacher pointed out that what comes out of the mouth is a great deal more important than that which goes in to it." That Teacher was Jesus, and that wisdom is found in Matthew 15:11.
Words flowing from a soul filled with God's Spirit of love will have a magnetic quality that will draw others. When the heart is burning with divine love, you don't need to try to put pathos or tenderness into your conversation. All your words will have a savor and a power that comes from an inner depth.
The root of the problem isn't actually the tongue, but the heart. Words only convey what's in the heart. "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things" (Matthew 12:35).
There is no way under the sun to change the quality of our words except to change the spirit from which those words flow. There has to be a change of heart.
If you need such a change of heart, begin by praying. Then as you spend time with Jesus, the fountain of all goodness and kindness and gentleness, you'll soon find your words to be a greater influence for good in the lives of those nearest and dearest to you.
By Virginia B. Berg, courtesy of Activated magazine. Used with permission.