Stick out your tree, please!

I can still hear my Nana’s giggle when I was a little girl.

“Show me your tree!” she would say and I’d stick out my tongue as she did the same.

My brothers and sister were also rehearsed in this. It was a nearly weekly occurrence in childhood, a random playful encounter of silly faces, mimicking and giggles. I’m not sure who began this little game – my parents or my grandparents. My father especially placed emphasis on our “trees” and explained that the tongue was more than a tongue… it was a “tree of life.” Sounds kind of funny to compare the squishy flexibly strong mouth muscle to a large plant, but that’s the game we played.

Now it’s a game passed on to the grandchildren. All the nieces and nephew.

This game was a continual reminder (a silly one) that the power of healing or destruction lied in my mouth. That I could choose the words I would speak and one day write. I could choose to speak blessing or I could choose bitterness. I could choose life.

Proverbs 15:4

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
(Courtesy of google images.)
When you grow up in a small town this game becomes very important. You see the same people at school, at the store, at community events. Everywhere. You see little seeds of gossip grow and hurt others. You see the effects of deception, rumors and ill-will a bit more close-up in a small town. That’s how I grew up. So maybe it’s my middle-child habit of observance or the influence of this game on my life or my wish to be more clinically-minded, but I still believe in the “tree of life” and I still believe our words hold weight and our words travel farther than we think. I believe in the practice of mindful, right speech, especially since it is given in scripture.
In Costa Rica in 2008 the 400-inhabitant village where I lived for a year had a saying, “Pueblo pequeño, infierno grande” = “Small town, big fire.” This was to say that words were powerful and once spoken, traveled quickly like a flame in a dried forest. The wise were considered those who guarded words.
Tree of life 2
(Courtesy of Google images.)
The Bible gives much evidence of this. But not only that, if you study many religious traditions you will find traces of the same thread of this “Right Speech” concept. It is certainly an important part of Buddhism and Yogic tradition as well… guarding the thoughts, the words and the tongue. Conscious speech. Conscious hearing.
I studied Buddhism for a time. I also studied Yogic philosophy, but have been around enough Yogis to know that Right Speech is not always at the forefront of their practice. I couldn’t understand how one could choose a “healing” path of yoga yet still gossip or say unkind or divisive words. Something had to be off here. I have also studied scripture and have found Christian speech to have been the most healing in my life. The sweet encouraging words, guiding discussions, listening ears and helpful input of many Christians has informed my belief that there is definitely mighty power in the tongue and we ought to heed the words of the wise when they come, but we ought to also pay attention to where they are coming from.
(Courtesy of Google images.)
A conscious right-speech practice may seem pretty tedious. But with practice, Right Speech is a flowering tree.
One of my favorite scriptures on right speech is from Ecclesiastes 10:20 “Do not revile the king even in your thoughts or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.”
This verse tells me that even when I feel I am speaking with good intention or I am trusting information with a person, because of human failure, deceit and error it is possible for my words (if they are bitter or negative) to travel and grow where they ought not. This verse also reminds me of the Biblical mandate to entertain strangers, because in so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it. We never fully know how our words may translate to another. We could speak one sentence that we believe is just a sentence, but to another it could be a breath of life or a spark of hope in a dark corner of their experience.
Psalm 19 2-4 “Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Today there is a lot of talking. There is a lot of information. There is a ton of media-driven messages.
(Courtesy of Google images.)
Should this mean we feel anxious every time we speak? Do we worry about the influence of our words? SHOULD is a word I eliminated years ago from my speech. SHOULD and CAN’T barely breach my lips. See what happens if you simply eliminate these two words from your speech. (Can’t entails a lack of ability or resources – instead use “won’t”. [i.e. I won’t exercise today instead of I can’t exercise.]) Again, like exercise or nutrition, healthy language and communication is a practice. How beautiful to be in the presence of a thoughtful conversationalist, no? How disparaging to be with a person whose speech is negative, biting, gossip-filled or trivial on a routine basis. If you feel that “Right speech” is a practice you want than “Right listening” goes hand in hand with it. We listen to ourselves as we listen to others. Certainly our speech will not be perfect and perfection will never come this side of heaven, but in the faith we are growing and being perfected. So being anxious about our actions and speech is not the right choice for one who is willing to grow and learn.
We must be willing to let go of past error and move forward in the practice.
More verses on speech in the Bible:
Proverbs 22:10
Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.
Proverbs 22:11
He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend.
Proverbs 22:12
The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge, but he frustrates the words of the unfaithful.
Proverbs 22:14
The mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit; he who is under the Lord’s wrath will fall into it.
2 Corinthians 8:7
But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and your love for us – see that you also excel in this the grace of giving.
1 Timothy 4:12
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believer in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity… Do not neglect your gift. 

6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Steph, You’re on fire. Another great post! Thank’s for sharing your words of wisdom. I needed this today. Leandra

Comment by Leandra

Stephanie-I love reading these every day. Such a nice blend of whismy, wisdom, spirituality, and scriptural truth. Thanks for sharing your gifts so generously. : ) In His love, Kay

Comment by Kay PAff

Thanks for the great compliment, Kay! So glad you’re enjoying it and thanks for reading 🙂

Comment by simplyenjoy

Thanks, Lea! ❤ I needed to write it today, too!

Comment by simplyenjoy

Love it! Let me see your tree!

Comment by strawberry

:p thanks, Strawberry! 😉

Comment by simplyenjoy

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