A Word On (Bad) Words

"...when our hearts are fully surrendered to God, there go our words."

I recently discovered that one of my elementary school-aged kids had written a "bad" word in a journal. (Never mind the fact that I was peeking in said kid's journal. That's another blog for another day.)

Only it wasn't just any bad word. It was the bad word.

"The big one," as Ralphie says in one of my favorite childhood movies, A Christmas Story, "the queen-mother of dirty words...the F-dash-dash-dash word!"

Oh yes, that word. I used to be quite the sad connoisseur of it. Back in the day I even prided myself on a properly timed and poetically dropped f-bomb. But sometime around a decade or so ago, for various reasons, words like that started to appear less frequently in my speech.

However, they didn't disappear altogether. And I still have instances when, if "colorful" language hasn't already slipped from my lips, it's certainly tumbling around in my head. And wouldn't you know I had just been feeling the burn of conviction about this very issue not 12 hours before I saw the kid's journal?

The tears about to spill out of my eyes reeked of hypocrisy.

I mean, I thought "dumb" was a bad word when I was this kid's age. As a 35-year old mother, I'm still working out an articulate response in our home about words like "suck" and "freaking." And I am definitely not okay with them saying or writing "omg."

Yet, when my husband and I were in Alaska recently, watching the aurora borealis for the first time, my initial reaction was not to fall on my knees in wonder and worship of our God and His flawless creation. It was to jump and guffaw and yell, "Holy s---, babe!" as I watched those mysterious lights dance in the sky.

And while those words were a result of my 100% unfiltered inward awe, they were also a reflection of my unfiltered heart, and the large percentage of it that still clings to my former self...who so enjoyed using crass language.

This outward expression of my awe was not God-honoring or worshipful. It was a careless reaction, and I have to believe the reason I felt ashamed immediately after (in the middle of nowhere, with only my best friend to hear) was more than just the result of adaptive morality or legalistic brainwashing.

God cares about our negligent use of words because it so often points to a negligent and ungrateful heart.

And that’s why I don’t want to spend too much time talking about specific words we shouldn't be using. Because after all, which words are "good" or "bad" anymore, and why? Is "suck" ok? What about substitutions? The Bible doesn’t really address whether or not a good ol' fashioned "dagnabbit" is permissible and when.

The first part of Ephesians 4:29 urges us to "let no corrupting talk" come out of our mouths, but we could go in circles about just what exactly that looks like these days. Standards of indecency constantly fluctuate with culture, let alone differ geographically.

As John Locke said, "So difficult it is to show the various meanings and imperfections of words when we have nothing else but words to do it with."

The intent is what we should be concerned with here. Colossians 3:8 tells us to put away "anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk" from our mouths. So much of our most questionable language - culturally or geographically approved "curse word" or not - stems from a place of anger, wrath, malice and slander (and also pride, self-righteousness, exhibitionism, discontent, fear, or just plain carelessness!)

None of this sounds like the flip-side, which Paul says is to, "Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another...forgiving each other...put on love...and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts...and be thankful...and whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." (Colossians 3:12-17)

Probably one of the most slippery slopes for many of us is how we speak when we're with family or friends who are unbelievers. I struggle with this particularly when I'm around those who knew me before I was a believer. This idea of "code switching" essentially involves changing the way we speak based on where we're speaking or who we're speaking to.

But something on Wikipedia (Wikipedia Code Switching Link) about this phenomenon struck me. In specific, there is one theory which explains changes in speech as a person either emphasizing or minimizing his or her social differences from the other person: "When speakers seek approval in a social situation, they are likely to converge their speech with that of the other speaker."

Did you catch that?

In Galatians 1:10, Paul tells us, "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."

Is it really necessary to use provocative or coarse language to relate to or draw unbelievers closer to us and therefore Christ? Or are we compromising ourselves - and Him - when we "code switch" like this?

Let’s not forget Romans 12:2, which says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

This leads us directly into the kinds of words we should be saying. Earlier I referenced Ephesians 4:29, the latter half of which says to let only talk that is "good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" come out of our mouths.

Or as we also see, many times in the Psalms, things like "Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all the day long." (Psalm 35:28)

With our mouths so busy building others up and giving them grace and telling of His praise all the day long...how is there room for anything else? Does our use of the f-word or the b-word or any other word (or our justification for it) give praise to God? Does it build anyone else up?

I hope you will all join me in a new quest for more carefully chosen words. To constantly ask, when I am using ANY word, how I am using it and why. To pray that my words are being used for God’s glory, to edify and love or bless others. And to seek the Holy Spirit that they be compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient...full of forgiveness, love, peace and thanksgiving.

Because when our hearts are fully surrendered to God, there go our words.