The subject of language has been front and center in my mind of late. In part because of its continual decimation due to the ever shifting meaning of words and phrases for the purpose of political posturing, but also because we tend to utter words without proper forethought. Silence can reveal -or at least leave room for- assumption of knowledge. It’s an opportunity few of us take advantage as Proverbs invites:
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.Proverbs 17:28
The type of speech we engage, or don’t engage in, speaks volumes. It draws questions without any faith identification. I spend most of my social and outside interaction with other home schooling mothers. The variety of people my family is exposed to, however, is one I haven’t experienced consistently since our children finished elementary school several years ago.
Two years ago for example, my husband spent a year working at a large company overseeing the transition of some of the internal workings of their system. During that time, he developed a rapport with a young man there. The young man never expressed any religious belief, and my husband never engaged in any sort of faith based dialog with him.
Near the end of his contract there, the man asked my husband to do something that startled him. He had a girlfriend and a young baby. He figured it was time to make it official so he asked my husband if he would be willing to marry them. They could do it right in the cafeteria of the office building over lunch, since they weren’t interested in any kind of big wedding event. He assumed my husband was a minister of some sort. As an Asian man raised without any religious tradition, he didn’t know what sort of clergy my husband might have been and I don’t know that he cared. He simply respected him, and wanted his blessing on their union.
My husband’s first question was why this young man assumed he was a minister. There isn’t anything noteworthy about my husband which indicates minister, or even typical church guy. The response was telling: “It wasn’t anything you said. It was what you didn’t say. You’ve been hear nearly a year, and I never heard you curse.”
Our daughters have had a similar experience on their jobs. Usually after about 3 months, someone notes that they never hear them use a curse word. Apparently, unlike when I was a child, profanity is like a tattoo. You don’t stand out if you do it. You stand out if you don’t.
I find this interesting because none of us flinches, winces, or gets offended when anyone uses profanity in our presence, and we don’t assume that people who do so are necessarily irreligious or bad Christians. It’s basically a holdover from how each of us were raised. My husband’s father wasn’t a saint, nor would he ever be mistaken for one. He just didn’t curse. Neither did my parents. We just sort of picked that up, as did several (though not all) of our siblings.
Profanity is an example I used here because it recently came up in our conversations about language, but it’s just one example among many. I am keenly aware of the issues that can come from mistaking propriety for piety. It’s one the thing I loathe most about certain strains of American Evangelicalism. But there is a lesson to be learned here about the importance of keeping a lid on it.
It really is possible to get through an election season without getting into a debate with your family members whose political opinions are different from your own. It’s possible to inspire or motivate others in areas where you may have been especially graced or worked hard to overcome without preaching to everyone you know or beating them over the head with your hard won knowledge.
People naturally tend to ask questions of those they see succeeding or accomplishing at the things with which they struggle. They almost always solicit the prayers of the least vocal but straightest walking believers they know. We don’t need to be nearly as vocal as many seem to think in order for others to glean from the wealth of knowledge and wisdom we presume we have acquired. Most of all, we can all save ourselves a lot of trouble if we would learn to be quiet:
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.Proverbs 21:23
I think about this often in the rough and tumble world of Internet communication, where people feel not only compelled but entitled to say whatever pops into their head with as much veracity and acidity as they can muster to get their points across. There also the saccharine treatise laced with contempt, and veiled in passive aggressive attacks. After a while the stealth sweetness is lost and the malice seeps through. Whatever the tactic, it’s the opposite of this:
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:24.
Using the logic of if this, then that, it is safe to conclude that: rude speech is like wormwood, bitter to the soul and sickness to the body.
I think I’ve said enough, so I’ll stop right here.