Do you remember your Ralphie moment, cussing in front of your parents or teacher for the first time? I do. I was accustom to letting it fly in school or around my friends but had a careful grip on things at home. Or so I thought. My first was the S-word. I remember it coming out and hoping like crazy my parents didn't hear it.
Needless to say, it was quite some time before I made that mistake again.
Most of us have had those moments. They usually come by surprise and on some occasions with regret. As an adult, it gets worse. I’m not talking about simply cussing. I’m talking about the kind of words that bite. They may come under our breath, in a meeting or in ear shot of our boss. Mine will come during political discourse, while driving in traffic or when someone angers me. Occasionally, they show up on Facebook! Imagine that! Words are like bells; they can’t be un-rung. Once they are out, they can’t get back in, no matter how many tweets you delete.
Most of us realize how important words are. My friend Richard reminded me of this when listening to a devotional he did last week. It was important because I am often careless with my words. They come from somewhere deep inside and erupt in moments of passion or frustration. They are wielded like a rapier, slicing and dicing my foe with ease and all-to-unfortunate skill. On other occasions, my words are precisely what I want to say, but they are untimely or unkind. Instead of a rapier, the function like a sledgehammer, smashing with little care.
If you are like me, you justify what happens. I have a little lawyer in my head that quickly pleads my defense. “They deserve it.” “I am only speaking the truth.” “It is what they needed to hear.” “IT WAS HILARIOUS!” “If the words fit, you must say it!”
My lawyer puts Jonny Cochran to shame.
However, when I have had time to reflect, I often realize my guilt. That’s when words really matter. Sticks and stones do break things, and words hurt. Or, words can heal. Saying things like “I’m sorry.” Or “Please forgive me.” Can build bridges and mend wounds.
To my lawyer, I say things like…
Just because you can mock someone doesn’t mean you should.
Just because you are “right” doesn’t mean you should.
Just because everyone will agree with you, doesn’t mean you should.
Just because it’s funny, doesn’t mean you should.
The Scriptures tell us in Luke 6.45b “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Ouch. That means that what comes out of our mouths flows from our hearts. Based on what comes out of our mouths it is clear that many of us are suffering from heart disease.
So, what do we do?
Think before you speak.
Easier said than done, I know. Giving pause to our words gives us a chance to think through the implications of our rapiers and sledgehammers. It also gives us an opportunity chance to check our hearts. What we say about other people says as much about us as it does them.
Name calling is easy, but it says something about your character.
Can’t think of anything nice to say? The absence of words can be profound and meaningful at the right time. Much has been written by very wise people about silence.
(Insert mom’s voice here)
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Be a blessing with your words or silence. If you don't, it may say more about you than you would like.