Over the past month or so, my wife and I have had some hard conversations. Places of deep hurt have become visible again. As we’ve talked, amid much sadness, I’ve had to reckon with a lasting wound I left on her heart. Years ago, before we were married, Miska and I endured a significant conflict. In that turmoil, I spoke words to her that were foolish and immature, words that lodged into the most tender and vulnerable places of her heart. I didn’t speak in anger or malice, but rather with ignorance and stupidity. I’ve asked her forgiveness multiple times, and she has freely forgiven me. Still . . . the wound is there. My words can’t be taken back.

James reminds us of how our words carry immense capacity for good or for evil. “The tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches,” James says, “But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire” (James 3:5). Fire is the perfect metaphor, for our words carry great force, and often they recklessly pour out of us. “The tongue is a flame of fire,” James says (James 3:6). Even small words can have immense repercussions.

In fact, the tongue “can set your whole life on fire” (James 3:6). How often have you had a conversation that turned ugly or angry—so much so that the fall-out consumed you or consumed a relationship or left a friendship smoldering in the ashes? It’s true, “no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).

Thankfully, this isn’t the whole story. Proverbs tells us that it’s possible for our gentle words to bring restorative life, to bring wholeness (Proverbs 15:4). The tongue’s fire doesn’t have to be destructive. It’s possible for our words to reflect the beautiful and life-giving words God has spoken to us.

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Mark 9:38-50