I don’t think I’ve made it any secret that I have trouble controlling my mouth. Sometimes I have a filter and sometimes I let it all hang out. Sometimes I make little girls cry when I scold them in the grocery store and sometimes I accidentally ask my checkout lady if the little boy in the picture frame is her grandson when it’s really her son. I’m somewhat of a loose canon, even to my friends. If you haven’t gotten an email from me apologizing for something that I said, then we haven’t talked enough.
The great thing is that this weakness gives me a great deal of compassion and mercy for those that throw their words against me. I know said that I karate chopped a student who congratulated me on being pregnant in the neck, but that didn’t really happen, guys. I gracefully let him stumble over his apologies before I dismissed him with a wave of my hand. Seriously, I’m very forgiving about things that people say to me because I put my foot in my mouth constantly.
Most of my verbal diarrhea (words that hurt or tear people down) stems from my need to be accepted. I make jokes at other’s expense so that people will think I’m funny. I’ve done this ever since I was a little kid (right, Leah?). I know that I’ve hurt Alex before my poking fun at sensitive things in front of other people. I love to entertain others by telling embarassing stories or saying things that I shouldn’t say. I guess this is part of my attraction to gossip- that when you gossip with someone, you become part of their intricate little world. You gain instant acceptance at the expense of others.
Since I’ve gotten (ahem) older, I’ve adopted this “let it all hang out” philosophy of life. I don’t have time to pretend to be something I’m not or feel something that I’m not feeling. I’m very raw, I guess. Sometimes I find other raw people and we’re instant best friends. Sometimes I try to be raw and the other person flees, screaming for their lives. While I do think that this is a positive thing, there’s a negative side to it. When you’re “raw”, you also tend to say what you’re thinking, without actually thinking about it. As a result, I often offer a stream-of-consciousness experience to the people around me.
God has indicated that it’s time to try and tackle this little issue. I recently stumbled across a blog author who had taken a vow of silence, only speaking when it was to build-up and encourage others (Shout out, daynajean!) Whew. That would be tough. Glad Jesus never asked me to do anything like that…
Ahem, Beth. This is Jesus. We interupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you the following message from Mark 9: If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.
Um, okay. You got me. While I’m not sure how a foot could cause someone to sin, it’s pretty clear that Jesus takes a hardline against offending appendages. He doesn’t mention the tongue specifically, but I’m sure he would tell us to cut it out or sew our mouths shut or something.
Chapter 3 in the book of James basically rips the tongue a new one- it can “corrupt the whole person and set the whole course of his life on fire”. Whoa, baby. Apparently he took this whole tongue thing seriously. James makes the point that a big strong boat is controlled by a tiny rudder and you can guide a horse by putting a small bit in its mouth. Likewise, the tongue is that influential.
I have found this to be true for me too. I was talking to big Al about this last night and I told him that the speaking/thinking dynamic is kind of a chicken and the egg situation for me. For example, let’s say I’m driving behind some numbskull (ahem, person) and they are doing one of the many things that other drivers do to annoy me. I feel the annoyance building up inside me. At the moment that I vocalize it, then it becomes “real” for me. My blood pressure starts rising and then I make an easy jump to whipping myself up into a frenzy that involves throwing my arm in the air and scowling. (PS- This is the reason that I don’t currently have anything identifying myself as a follwer of Jesus on my car. Dallas exacerbates my road rage and I’m positive Jesus would not call people ding dongs or leer at them while He was driving). The thought came first but the anger was what boiled over. It started with a thought but I let my anger take over and manifest itself by speaking my anger and annoyance. Once I’ve spoken it, why not keep going?
If I think about sharing something unsavory with a coworker so that she’ll like me (which sounds like I’m in kindergarten), then once I speak it, it’s irreversible. I’m committed to sharing that story and I’m labeled, in their mind, as someone who likes to dish out the latest juicy tidbits. Ugh. I don’t want that reputation! But what’s done is done. Now it’s time to move on and fix the issue.
So here’s the thing. I have trouble controlling my dog so I bought a kennel for her. I have trouble controlling my mouth, so I should have a self-imposed muzzle. So, a vow of silence it is. For one week (and hopefully on a more permanent basis), I will only speak when I am encouraging someone. One of my favorite verses is about how Samuel grew up and none of his words “fell to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19). When Samuel spoke, you listened cause that guy didn’t waste his voice. Oh, that I could speak that way.
We’re trying to cut out the white noise and now I’m working on trimming the Beth-noise.
I’ll let you know that I’m fully aware that I probably won’t be 100% successful at this. Probably not even 80%. I fully expect to start to say something only to freeze and freak out whoever I’m talking to. Just last night when Alex and I were talking about it, I almost immediately made fun of him for watching a movie entitled, “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”. CAN YOU BLAME ME? I then quickly justified it and said that I was simply encouraging him to watch better, more interesting movies. I know (and God knows) that my battle with my tongue will be a lifelong one. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth fighting, though.
To head you off at the pass, I’ve already developed some FAQs for this little project.
1. Why are you doing this? Well , aside from the aforementioned reasons, I hope that the lack of verbal diarrhea will give me some time to listen to God and others. Think of it as a talking fast/reduction. I’m not writing about it so that you pat me on the back (which you probably wouldn’t anyway). I want to share my struggles with my tongue and how God is helping me to tame these ingrained desires.
2. How does this work? Don’t you have to work? Well, let’s be honest. Since I work at an ESL school, about 90% of my day is miming anyway. When I have to speak, I can do it nicely and respectfully. “Uh, excuse me, little Bhutanese man. Could you kindly not spit on the carpet? Thank you ever so much.” Okay, I will speak when I have to at work. I will not ignore the students or try to speak to them in American sign language when they ask me millions of questions.
3. What about your husband? Are you going to be a mute wife? With Alex, I can certainly have discussions where I’m trying to be encouraging and building him up. In fact, why I wasn’t concentrating on having those sorts of discussions before, I don’t know. I may or may not allow our discussions at night about conspiracy theories and “what’s your favorite pair of shorts?” to continue. And if I have an issue with him….
4. Are you saying that we shouldn’t express our anger? Absolutely not. Sometimes I tend towards being passive aggressive, which is just as bad. I think God wants us to work things out with each other, which means expressing anger, disappointment, etc. The difference between what God wants and what I’m doing is that I’m expressing these negative things through a place of selfishness. Instead of trying to be a peacemaker, I’m trying to zing you and make you feel guilty so that you’ll change your mind and agree with me. I pray that God will help me learn to examine my intentions of saying something before I say it. So…no, Alex is not off the hook entirely this week but instead of lashing out at him about the dishes, I’ll try to deeply consider what I say and how I make my request.
3. Does talking to inanimate objects count? Oy, this is a hard one for me. Considering my purse, which loves to get wrapped around every pokey-out thing in my car everytime I get out of the car, and I have a love/hate relationship, I’m going to say yes. This vow of silence absolutely involves inanimate objects too. More than once, I’ve come home, carrying my purse and lunchbox and school lunchbox and a bag of groceries only to find that my key has decided that it doesn’t want to work in our upsidedown deadlock and then I pound the door and throw my things and grind my teeth. It’s very dramatic. Inanimate objects are often the inital source of my frustration, which I then take out on the unsuspecting humans around me. Again, if I’m already annoyed at my purse and I’ve huffed and puffed about it, it’s not much of a jump to be angry at anything else that seems to cross my path.
Lord, more of Your words and less of mine.