How many MILLIONS of careless words are spoken every, single day? And when was the last time you bothered to think about all the toxic goop flowing out of your friends’ mouths, rather than absentmindedly joining the Vomit Fest?
I first started thinking about this when I was only a kid, meditating on cliched phrases like “God bless you” and “In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” I wondered if God ever got tired of looking up from his book, saying, “Yes? You called?” only to discover his children weren’t actually calling Him at all. They were brainlessly going through the motions again.
In fourth grade, I had a sunday school teacher who explained to my class that the Third Commandment regarding taking the Lord’s Name in vain referred to basically ANY word uttered in frustration, without thought.
He told us not to say “darn” or “heck” or “shoot,” because those are just substitute words designed to help us get as close to swearing as possible without getting in trouble. And he said not to say “Oh my,” because that’s just one breath away from “Oh my God.” (Texting didn’t exist at the time, but I’m absolutely certain he wouldn’t approve of the abbreviated “OMG,” even if you changed it to “OMGosh.” …because ‘gosh’ was another Substitute Word.)
Say what you will about that level of Legalism…
…at least it taught his students to CONSIDER their speech before letting it fly, even if they eventually determined (as I did) that ‘shoot’ isn’t a bad word… and, honestly, ‘shit’ isn’t automatically bad, either. (Fastforward about ten years to the first time I read “pisseth against the wall,” in the King James Bible and felt cheated out of important information!)
Now that my fellow sunday school attendees are all grown up, I think we are faaaaaaar more concerned with calling out old-fashioned, pharisaical, Fundies like our old teachers than with asking ourselves whether God is pleased by our word choices.
It’s as if we’d rather swing to the OTHER extreme of slandering ourselves constantly–rather than risk being as conscientious and principled as our grandparents were. (Ugh, moral standards. How terrible.)
What do I mean?
Am I talking about the word “shit?”
No, I mean the fact that it has been less than a year since thousands of Christians were declaring a 2-year-old WOULD RISE FROM THE DEAD, because God was GOING TO WORK A MIRACLE and the grave was GOING TO RELEASE HER BACK TO HER PARENTS.
For four days, Christians sang songs and wrote social media comments and prophesied with enthusiastic heresies–and how many of them repented for taking the Lord’s name in vain, when their prophecies didn’t come true?
Did any of them?
Those warnings about keeping a tight rein on our tongues don’t apply in the New Covenant, I guess?
I’m talking about the fact that Paula White and other members of President Trump’s team declared that Trump WOULD WIN A VICTORY and that it WOULD BE A LANDSLIDE and that he’s NOT GOING ANYWHERE because he HIS GOD’S CHOSEN INSTRUMENT. Even after President Trump exhausted his legal efforts and announced there would be a change of administration (“peacefully”), some of his fans continued to exclaim that it’s NOT OVER, and Trump is STILL GOING TO PULL OUT A VICTORY…
Has anyone asked them how they’re going to react if all of that is just wishful thinking?
I’m talking about the fact that you will hear endless, unholy words just walking down the street if you start paying attention.
“I hate all this traffic.”
“I’ve never been so hungry.”
“If I have to wait in that line, I’ll scream.”
“I can’t take any more of this.”
“God bless you!”
Even in my house, you will regularly hear me say things like YOU KIDS ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY and I NEVER GET ANYTHING ACCOMPLISHED and I NEED A VACATION and dozens of other favorite swear words, which I don’t really mean and hardly hear myself say.
When I say things out of sadness or fear or frustration, I’m usually just emoting, selfishly and without thinking about what’s true.
That is to say: when I don’t care enough to watch my words, everything coming out of my mouth is saying “Truth be damned.”
No, I’m not talking about banishing the word “gosh” from your vocabulary.
But maybe we can make an effort to stop perjuring ourselves so often?
Maybe we can try saying what we really mean:
“If the Lord wills it, He will work a miracle.”
“I really, really want Trump to win the election because I think Joe Biden will make a bad President.
“I feel like saying angry words right now.”
(Or, more specifically in my case: “I’m so frustrated right now that I want to blame everyone else in the house for this mess, even though I know deep down it won’t make me feel much better.”)
True, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue as quickly and smoothly as, “Y’all are driving me crazy!” But maybe that’s the point.
Maybe that’s why James told his readers to be “slow to speak” and the writer of Proverbs said “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life.”
I know how tempting it is to unload the first thing that pops into our head when we feel Big Feelings. But, for the love of God, can we try to get a grip on our careless declarations? (See what I did there? I intentionally chose a forceful phrase that included God’s name. Isn’t that clever?)
THINK about what you’re typing and talking about today.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak …” Matthew 12:3