I choked, spit, gagged, coughed, and tried to talk even when the bar of Lava Soap was being swished around in my mouth. I remember it like it was yesterday and that has been well over 45 years ago that my mom made good on her promise. I was a mouthy kid, to say the least. I said whatever came to my mind and vomited it all out on the unsuspecting world around me. My mom was a good mom. Even though, for the first part of her kids’ lives she was not a follower of Jesus Christ, she was still a good person, and as such she had taught us not to curse. She had told us repeatedly, “If I ever hear you curse, I’ll wash your mouth out with soap.” I was just like everyone else in the world. I thought that those kinds of things, like having a bubble bath in your mouth, happened to other people but not me. Well, I was wrong. And after that day, I never said another curse word. Well… at least not around my mom or within earshot of her. However, that oral experience of soapy suds started me on a life-long journey of learning the power of my words—one of which I am on today.
Words have power, yet we wield them as if they have no consequences or benefits. We know they have power; we just live like they don’t. Why do I say that? Take one day of your life and be conscious of all the words that come out of your mouth. Don’t change anything to your daily life. Just go through your day as normal and write down every negative, sarcastic, condescending, and mean word or conversation you have. It will surprise you.
Part of my word journey came to a pinnacle one day when I was around 18 or 19 years old. I was unloading sound and music equipment for a little gig we had at the “King’s Inn” here in Picayune (where PJ’s Coffee is
currently). Some of you might remember it from the 70s and 80s. Either way, as I was in the back of the cargo van passing equipment out, God spoke to me and told me to go on a “word fast”. I was like, “What is a word fast?” He spoke again and told me to “only speak when you are spoken to.” I said, “Okay, Lord,” and thought to myself (as if God doesn’t know my thoughts) “how hard can it be?” Well, the first day proved to be one of the most difficult roads I had to walk down on this “word journey” I was on.
Words have the power to build or destroy, to lift up or tear down. With just His words, God spoke the world into existence. “Let there be…” and there it was. I am not saying that we have that kind of power, but it proves the point that words have power. Words are one of the primary ways we communicate. Whether they are spoken or written, they communicate what we are thinking and what is in our heart. Jesus said many centuries ago, “From out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.” (Matthew 12:34; 15:18, Luke 6:45, Proverbs 4:23) That negates any of our excuses when we are caught in a lie, or when we use our words to undermine someone or to “cut” someone down. “I was only joking,” is not a good excuse. In my experience in dealing with people over many decades of counseling and listening to them, many have been hurt and demoralized by the words of someone, especially those who are close to them. I have come to the conclusion that, for all the positive words I speak to someone, one negative word I speak can undo a lot of the work of the positive ones. Why is that? I think that it might have a lot to do with our American culture. We have more access to words, ideas, different perspectives, and a myriad of ways of thinking than we have ever had at any point in mankind’s history. Thus, we are reading or, might I say, consuming thousands of words daily, both spoken or written. I think a younger generation is looking for some type of validation and affirmation in all the words they are consuming that our current model of the American family didn’t give them. I believe the older generation is abdicating its responsibility to encourage, inspire, motivate, and give impetus to a younger generation to “go for it.”
Words are powerful, as we stated earlier. I’ve focused on the negative power of words, but what if we used our words to build up instead of tear down? I read a pretty good bit and one of my favorite authors is a guy by the name of Leonard Sweet. In his book “11 Indispensable Relationships You Can’t Be Without”, he introduced me to the idea of “editability” versus “accountability”. He says this: “Accountability is designed to prevent you from doing bad. Editability is designed to help you do good.” He tells the story of his friend and author Joe Myers.
“Joe Myers illustrates the editability theme with the story of his wife, Sara, handing him back an essay she had edited for him, and all he could see was red. Every page was dripping in blood. As he tried to find one pure white page, she said these words: ‘Joe, this is fantastic! This is one of the best things I have ever read! This is going to change people’s lives.’
‘You’re kidding. You hate it …’
‘No, I love it.’
‘But look at all the red. You hate it.’
‘Joe, I love it. I just want you to get your ideas out as powerfully as you can. Every time you see red on the page, you should hear me saying to you, “Joe, I love this, I love you, and I want the whole world to read this book.”’
When Joe told that story at a mountain advance in Canaan Valley, West Virginia, it made me understand why I had just dedicated an entire book to my editor Ron Lee. Here was someone in my life whose greatest ambition was to help me be the best writer I could be. He labored for hours over my stumblings and mumblings, making sentences less convoluted but without destroying my voice in the process. Whenever we talked on the phone or met in person, his entire dedication was toward making my voice stronger and helping me speak out of my voice. He often told me what to think about, but never what to think.”
- Excerpt From "11" by Leonard Sweet https://books.apple.com/us/book/11/id521901175. This material may be protected by copyright.
So, what if we used our words or the lack thereof to edit and make us better?
I have worked in the world of audio and video for the past 40 years and have edited hundreds of videos, and I always start out with a lot of footage. I take away or edit out what is not necessary to get the idea across to people. So, I would say that by subtraction I am actually adding more value to the video rather than taking value away.
What if we looked at our words that we use every day with people and started editing out the unnecessary words so that we could add value to the people that we do life with, thus making our world better because of less words? I can honestly say that over the period of 33 years of marriage, I have never said anything to my wife that I regret. Well, except that one time that something “slipped” out, and I was as shocked at what I said as she was. Other than that, never. Ask her yourself if you don’t believe me. Either way, we need to pay close attention to what is coming out of our mouths. For as long as we have been married, our family vision has been to bring life to people no matter where we go. And as such, that vision has impacted the words that come out of our mouth, be it in public or in private.
Jesus’ words have impacted countless people over the past two thousand years. I am sure He had much more to say than what He did say. However, I am certain that what He chose not to say was as important as what He chose to say. Maybe we need to take a lesson out of Jesus’ playbook and sometimes just… hush up!