Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a wonderful little book entitled The Four Agreements that I have decided to use as the basis for a four-part sermon series. Much of what Ruiz says is not new, and can also be found in the ancient wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). But he has a way of bringing this to the contemporary reader that is profound and understandable.
The foundation of The Four Agreements is that when each person was young we were taught certain things that we had no control of, like what language we learned and what religion we practiced. Even more important, we learned what behaviors were good and what were bad. These things were rewarded or punished in kind. As we processed this knowledge we made “agreements” with ourselves about how we would behave. We learned well the rules of the world we lived in and what would bring us love and what wouldn’t. If we were beautiful enough, we would be loved. If we were smart enough, we would be loved. If we didn’t cry or show emotion, we would be loved. If we were the star athlete, we would be loved.
Eventually, Ruiz says, we got old enough that we could “punish” ourselves when we did the wrong thing. And, now, as adults, we spend most of our energy trying to keep the agreements we have made throughout the course of our lives. We keep trying to be perfect so that we will be loved. But there is no perfection. We end up judging ourselves and judging others in our search for perfection.
It takes great courage to begin to see beyond the illusion of our agreements to our authentic selves underneath. Instead of spending all of our energy upholding these agreements we’ve made with ourselves, Ruiz suggests that there are Four Agreements that will help us break those agreements that were made in fear and bring back to us our personal power and energy which will then be used in positive ways.
The First Agreement, he says, is the most important one. Be impeccable with your word. Interestingly, the book of Proverbs spends more time talking about what sorts of things should come out of our mouths than anything else. By and large this is not rocket science:
- Do not lie
- Do not say cruel things
- Don’t swear
- Don’t belittle your neighbors
- Don’t be sharp
- Don’t gossip
- Reflect on how to answer
- Know when to hold your tongue
We all know these things. They are part of the programming we’ve received. Being impeccable with our word is much more than this, though. It begins by remembering the power our words have to create something beautiful or something that tears down and brings a living hell to oneself and others. Proverbs 18: 20-21 states, “It is the fruit of our mouth that fills our stomach; it is the yield of our lips that satisfies us. Our tongue has the keys of both death and life, and we eat of the fruit of everything we say.”
Words are so powerful that they can manipulate crowds of people or countries of people to do things. Hitler convinced people with his words horrible things. While others like Martin Luther King Jr. were able to convince people to work for justice, equality and good in non-violent ways.
Being impeccable with our word begins with ourselves. We all have a lot of negative self-talk that goes on. But that which we use against ourselves, we will also inevitably use against others. Yes, we make mistakes, but then we need to take responsibility for our words and actions without judging or blaming ourselves. Learn from it, grow from it, and move on. Being impeccable with our word means using our energy in the direction of truth and love for ourselves. (Sounds an awful lot like “Love your neighbor as yourself,” doesn’t it?)
Gossiping, putting someone down, speaking words of anger, jealousy, blame and envy, all serve to destroy relationships. I learned early in my life that if we intend to hurt someone, we will. And, if we hurt someone with our words, it doesn’t just hurt that person, but hurts us because it has now hurt our relationship with them, and perhaps with others. All we have to do is read social media or watch the parents on the sideline of a high school sporting event to see the anger, negativity, judgment, jealousy, and hatred that is becoming rampant. There are many people not being impeccable with their word, and we can be assured that this begins (often unconsciously) with negative self-talk.
One of the most interesting things Ruiz pointed out was that the limit of our self-abuse determines the amount of abuse we’ll take from someone else. We’ll take as much abuse from others as we feel we deserve. If someone calls us stupid, we only put as much stock in that as we believe we really are stupid. If someone steps over our line, we won’t take it anymore. The more we love ourselves, the less negative our self-talk, the less we will buy into and be hurt by what others say about us.
Be impeccable with your word. Use it in the direction of truth and love for yourself. Tell yourself how wonderful you are, how much you love yourself. This will help to bring you back to the truth of who you are. It will bring you back into connection with the Divine. And it will change the way you communicate with others, and therefore change your relationships with others… for the better.