Isabelle, our almost-2-year-old, has been saying “Dang it” occasionally. I don’t know what bothers me more — that she uses the phrase in appropriate situations so she already knows what it means or that I know she learned it by listening to my husband and me.
When she says it, we tell her not to use those words, and sometimes she’ll say “Oopsie” right after it because we’ve tried to substitute that phrase for the other one in our own speech. Still, the “dang” cat is out of the bag, and I’m reminded, convicted really, how much harm we do with our words and how permanent their place once they are voiced.
I remember a children’s sermon about this, using a tube of toothpaste as an illustration. The teacher squeezed all the toothpaste out and offered $5 to any child who could put the toothpaste back in the tube. Try as they might, not one of those kids could put an ounce of toothpaste back in the tube. The teacher went on to tell the children that this is what it’s like with our words. Once they’re out, they can never go back in.
One time while working for the college newspaper, I had an issue with one of the editors and said some things about her to other staffers. Of course, those comments got back to her and she confronted me about it. I was embarrassed that she heard what I’d said about her, and I’d like to say it’s a lesson I learned, but I know far too often I still speak without thinking or considering whether I’d want the person I’m talking about to hear what I’ve said.
Recently I’ve been reading through Proverbs, and the Lord has convicted me through a string of verses that I must be more discerning about what I say. Consider these thoughts:
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. (10:11)
Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning … the mouth of a fool invites ruin. (10:13, 14)
Whoever spreads slander is a fool. (10:18)
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. (10:19)
The tongue of the righteous is choice silver … the lips of the righteous nourish many. (10:20, 21)
“Loose lips sink ships” is how the old military saying goes. The same is true of the Church. Our “casual” commentary on each other will slowly destroy any chance we have at unity and witness to the world.
And, it starts with me.
“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)