Fire is one of those elements that can either be our friend, keeping us warm and dry, or our foe, creating incomparable damage. Likewise, the tongue can either encourage or destroy. As the Apostle James said, "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness." (James 3: 9) James goes on to say the tongue is like a spark that can set a mighty forest ablaze.

Fire creates searing heat. Perhaps more destructively, however, is the fact that fire consumes the oxygen needed to survive. Fire robs us of life just as the tongue can set a mortal blaze in our marriages, stealing vitality from our life.

For any fire to continue it needs fuel. Thankfully, fire cannot burn on its own. I received a vivid lesson about fire and fuel one warm summer day when I was about ten years old. I was lying in the tall grass behind my house with a couple of buddies. With stalks of dried grass hanging out of our mouths we were telling stories and enjoying ourselves. Life couldn’t have been sweeter.

To ten-year olds, those stalks of grass were temptingly similar to a forbidden cigarette and one of us wondered what it would be like to "smoke" a few of those blades of grass. It all seemed innocent enough. We gathered our "cigarettes" and proceeded to light up. Suddenly, without warning, a spark caught in a bundle of dried grass, and then another, until we were faced with an inferno beyond our control. Realizing the potential danger of the fire, we ran for the help of my dad. Three screaming boys immediately caught his attention. We formed a "bucket brigade" and were able to douse the fire and get on to the next important issue—explaining all of this to my very angry father.

An innocent outing, an impulsive act, a furious outburst of potential danger. We contained the problem quickly and limited the damage.

Like that field, a marriage can become tinder dry at times, ready for a spark to ignite things. A season of dryness, or ongoing conflict, can set the stage for an angry outburst of deadly proportions.

"But, I just can’t help it," twenty-seven year old Karen said recently. "I just get so mad that I say what’s on the top of my mind. I know I can be extremely hurtful. We have called each other the most horrible names, and are embarrassed about it. We both have biting tongues, and know it."

Karen and Doug, clients of mine, were newly married and already having problems. I watched as Doug nodded his head to Karen’s rendition of the problem. I asked them to explain more about their problem.

 

"My husband and I can’t seem to agree on anything. I mention to him that I want more help around the house, and somehow we end up in World War III. I hate it."

"It’s true," Doug said soberly. "We don’t know how it happens, but when we fight, which is not all the time, it gets bad. We say things we would never say at other times, and we’ve nearly called it quits because of it."

"Well," I said slowly. "I have a saying—‘If it’s predictable, it’s preventable."

"It certainly is predictable," Karen said wryly. "The preventable part is questionable."

I could clearly see the pain Karen and Doug were in. They had hurt each other deeply with, impetuous, ill-spoken words.

"It takes a lot of self-control to slow things down enough to see what you two are doing so you can change the pattern."