Thursday night there’s no doubt that many of our homes are going to be raided by kids in colorful and crazy costumes with bags in hand, knocking on our doors and shouting, “Trick or Treat!” This fun children’s Halloween practice began years ago under the premise of kids going door to door asking for treats or dealing with the implied threat of them playing tricks on homeowners who refused. Thankfully, most of us like to treat and we drop some candy in the bag, blessing the happy kids who scramble off to another neighbor’s door.

This annual holiday reminds me that there’s another manner in which we “trick or treat” each other on a daily basis that has much greater ramifications. It’s the trickery of using words that are crass, cutting and critical to those close to us. We live in a culture that glamorizes sarcasm in the guise of humor, regardless of what we may say or whom we may hurt. Sadly, if it’s funny, then it’s cool, and therefore acceptable no matter the pain that our words may bring.

When I came home for the summer after my freshman year of college, my mother noticed that I had a different tone to my words. After the first couple of weeks of hearing me cut up my siblings with humorous put-downs and sly critical remarks, she had a heart-to-heart with me about my words. She reminded me that despite how I talked with my buddies in college, this was not acceptable at home.

The scriptures encourage us to be mindful of the words that we speak. Paul urges us to win with our words in Ephesians 4:29,

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Solomon exhorts us to choose our words wisely in Proverbs 18:21,

“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.”

The old jingle, “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat” has a nugget of truth in it. Did you know that 80% of what we taste depends on our ability to smell? If we could smell the words that come out of our mouth, what would they smell like?

Don’t trick! Treat others with the words that you speak. Choose to compliment rather than cut down. Decide to give direction rather than bring destruction. Elect to build rather than berate. Every day we have the power at the tip of our tongue to give life or death.