I had a dream that my house was burning down. Flames of fire, flickering throughout. Smoke billowing from every room. Heat rising, paint bubbling, ash smouldering. And in the midst of it, my family was standing in our living room together, holding each other close. Until someone was burning. And all the while, I’d had advance notice the house was going to go.
Why didn’t we leave? Why did we stay? As if that burning question wasn’t enough, I’d somehow known the fire was coming.
I woke with a start, my heart racing and my palms sweaty. As if I’d just been through something uncomfortable. In a way, I had. I fumbled through my morning tasks, but my mind always returned to my dream. To the fire, to my son being burned. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And then it slowly started to make sense to me, and everything was clear.
Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. James 3:3-6
Earlier that evening, I’d read this passage to my son, who has been struggling with controlling his tongue. It seemed like the perfect end to a lecture about him being more respectful of us as parents, about him stopping himself before he starts. About him praying for wisdom, and asking for help if he can’t do it himself. So I read that passage and didn’t think about it again.
Until that dream.
Sometimes God uses dreams to get our attention. To teach us something, to correct us. And this dream spoke some truth over my life. Because my son is my heart, but sometimes he’s a lot like me. Sometimes teenager me comes raging back into my life through his words. And sometimes, if I’m being honest, adult me needs to watch her words too.
When emotions are high, words burn. When feelings are hurt, words burn. Words burn, and if we’re not careful, they can set our whole life on fire. And sometimes we know that, but we don’t take heed. Sometimes we stand in a burning room and watch the fire swirling around us until it’s too late.
When words burn, we are hurting ourselves. When words burn, we are hurting others. I couldn’t stop thinking about my dream, and I can replay it in my mind as I watch my son’s arm burn. I see the angry embers sizzle and pop, landing on him and catching fire. He doesn’t scream. He doesn’t cry. He just looks at me, and through his eyes I can see right into his soul. And I know I’ve failed him.
If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3
From the fruit of their mouth a person’s stomach is filled; with the harvest of their lips they are satisfied. The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:20-21
Our tongues have the power of life and death. We can choose to speak life into our words, or let the fire take over with words that spark flames. We can be helpful and encouraging, or we can tear another person down. But we can’t tame our tongue. Only God can.
His wisdom is what tames the tongue. His peace is like crashing waves over our lives, putting out fire and healing our hearts. Words burn, but He heals the wounds they leave behind.
In my dream, my choices burned my house to the ground. Words burn, and my life was on fire. My words, my actions, my choices hurt others. But the story doesn’t end there. When I saw my son burning, I screamed – which is always what my first reaction is in an emergency. But then I prayed, crying out to God to help and have mercy on us. And the house dissolved away, and we were standing by an ocean. Holding hands, all four of us. Watching the waves. I looked down at our hands, and my son’s arm was perfect. I looked at his eyes, and they were filled with joy. His eyes, as blue as the ocean stretched before us.
Words burn. But perfect peace can heal more than we can ever imagine.