Among Christian circles, we do a lot of talking about … talking. “Speak the truth in love,” we remind each other, referring to interactions with friends, family, and the occasional bitter enemy. We understand the importance of not being brash and abrasive in our communication of truth, nor false and flattering in our communication of love. We quote many convicting proverbs about “the tongue” and frequently discuss the power of words. We acknowledge that the words we speak have a direct effect on the mind, heart, and soul of the recipient.
Why, then, do we take such little care in the words we speak to ourselves?
Have you ever met a beautiful girl who continues to think she’s hopelessly flawed despite the reassurance of those around her? Usually, it’s not out of vanity or a desire for attention. On the contrary, it’s often because she truly believes it. “But why?” we think. “Who would have berated her enough times that she actually started believing it?” Probably, no one we can see.
But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been hearing the same lie over and over, day and night, perhaps for years. In fact, the lie probably enters her soul every single time she looks in the mirror, every time she compares herself to someone else, every time she fails to measure up in some way. It sounds like psychological torture, doesn’t it?
It is. A ridiculous, unfathomable lie has been reinforced in her mind so many times that she believes it, acts accordingly, and will not be convinced otherwise.
A belief is rarely established by hearing an idea once. Therefore, our beliefs are things that have been spoken to our souls many, many times. Likewise, something that is spoken to the soul many, many times will directly influence, and likely become, a belief.
Our minds do, however, filter incoming information, and whether consciously or not, we will retain some as truth and dismiss the rest as irrelevant or untrue. The things we retain as truth are the things we will speak to our own souls over and over again.
It seems to me that there are a few steps between the time information enters the mind and when it becomes a firmly-held belief. First, we accept it as true (or, more often, “possibly true”). Second, we speak it to ourselves, perhaps inadvertently. Third, because we’ve now heard it so many times, we adopt it as a personal belief. Fourth, we put the new belief into practice. (I am sure many a well-educated individual could add great detail to these simplistic steps and argue their scientific credibility, of which I claim none.) Whether or not this sequence is comprehensive, it brings me to the compelling realization that the words we speak to our own souls have a much greater effect than we know. We believe some things about ourselves because they were told to us. But others, and I’d venture to guess more, are things we tell ourselves.
We all talk to ourselves, even if we don’t think we do. We have opinions of our own looks, intellect, and other characteristics. We show ourselves approval and disapproval. We tell ourselves things — often, things we wouldn’t tell anyone else because of the damaging effect they would have. As important as it is to honestly acknowledge strengths and weaknesses, has God given us any more license to heap abuses on ourselves than on anyone else? Nor, by the same token, ought we to speak prideful, self-centered things to our souls any more than we should declare them aloud. An absence of truth can be deeply self-destructive in either direction.
How can we speak discerningly to others if we don’t even speak discerningly to ourselves? How can we resist an onslaught of lies if we don’t practice abiding in truth?
If you tell yourself that your needs are more important than everyone else’s, you’ll believe it and act on it.
If you tell yourself that you are permanently a victim, you’ll believe it and act on it.
If you tell yourself that you’ve failed at everything you’ve ever tried, you’ll believe it and act on it.
If you tell yourself that your life is empty and meaningless, you’ll believe it and act on it.
If you tell yourself that you are without hope, you’ll believe it and act on it.
But if you tell yourself that you are not alone and the Lord has a plan for your life, you’re speaking a promise of God and, by His grace, you’ll believe it and act on it.
What you say to yourself matters more than you realize. Understand the effect your words have on your heart. Our souls need to hear the word of God more than anything else. Remind yourself of His promises, His precepts, His love, the Gospel. If you make a habit of telling yourself the truth, you will become more discerning of right and wrong, more able to reject lies, and more inclined to the voice of our Savior.
Your soul is going to believe what it hears over and over.
Let it be the truth.