A moment on the lips

In Matthew 12:36, Jesus said “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment”. A recent incident helped me gain a deeper understanding of this verse.

Here’s how it happened.

Many years ago I was a volunteer at Yad Hashmona, the Believer-owned and operated moshav midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Back then there were still many volunteers there from all over the world, and in the six months or so that I was there I met many people who I would forge lifelong friendships with.

One such individual, a young woman from the UK, was cute and funny and a lot of other things I liked (this was long before I met and married my wife) so I often teased and/or flirted with her. On one such occasion, I saw her picking up a piece of cake from the dessert table and blurted out a line I’d read in a book or seen in a movie somewhere that went like this “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”

She was probably a bit annoyed at that and she still ate the piece of cake, but she also chuckled and since that had been my objective I smiled and went about my business, soon forgetting the incident in the hustle and bustle of the day. Time passed and she eventually left Yad Hashmona and went back home to the UK. We stayed in touch via Facebook and over the years we’d often post jokes and cartoons on each others walls, share interesting news articles and videos, “like” pictures of each-others children, etc. 

Then a few days ago out of nowhere (it seemed to me) she sent me an email telling me that she hadn’t been able to enjoy a piece of cake, or cookies or any of that kind of stuff in years and it was all my fault because I’d put that saying “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips” in her head back in the day. She said she wasn’t too upset with me because it had helped her stay trim and healthy, but it was true nonetheless.

I was quite shocked by this, as I remembered saying these words to her but it never would have occurred to be that it would make much of an impression, much less become a lifelong thing. But it did.

Now, in this case, some careless words of mine made a lifelong impression on someone that was relatively benign. But almost everyone can think of examples of things that have been said to us that made a lifelong impression that were quite harmful and destructive.

For example, I can remember walking up to a table at lunchtime my second year of highschool. One of the guys sitting there, who I thought was one of my buddies, looked up and said “why don’t you go sit where you’re wanted.” I can’t remember that guy’s name and I barely remember what he looked like, but to this day when I walk up to a table to sit down and eat, the unwelcome thought will come into my mind of wondering if I’m wanted there.

It’s a bit more difficult but I can also remember things I’ve said to people that, looking back on it, might have hurt them deeply for a very long time, although they’d probably never say anything about it to me or even be fully cognizant of it themselves.

Every word that you and I say to someone is being recorded in Heaven, and it will be reviewed and we’ll have to give an account for it. If we say something to someone and it causes damage to their lives, we’ll have to face the consequences for that. I think we’ll probably also have to face the consequences for damage our words do to other people’s lives, including the children of those who we wound with our words and who suffer damage from it.

So the sin of “careless speech” can be compared to a rock thrown out in the middle of a pond, creating ripples and affecting the shoreline far from the point of impact.

May God give us all the wisdom, compassion and clarity to be careful with our speech, because words might only be “a moment on the lips” but they can stay for a lifetime in someone else’s heart and mind.