Great are the faults committed by the tongue. The soul will not attain sanctity if it does not keep watch over its tongue. -St. Faustina Kowalska
In 1972, Comedian George Carlin introduced his list of “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” And no, I’m not going to list the words. But every kid of a certain age knew what they were not long after Carlin’s album was released. Now, if you were a fan of Lenny Bruce, you’d know there were nine words on his list, but Carlin opted for just seven.
When you’re a child and begin to hear “naughty words”, it’s almost like a dare; a challenge to see if you can use them without getting caught. Our boys had very different ways of dealing with words that they thought might be off limits.
If Derek heard a word while he was on the bus or at school, he would pull me aside and quietly ask me about it. Once I told him a word wasn’t appropriate for him to use, that was usually the end of it. I don’t remember bad language as being an issue for him. At least, it was never an issue when he was around me.
Craig, on the other hand, being our writer, was much more inventive in determining the acceptability of a word. We would be sitting at the table, eating supper and sharing about our day. If you asked Craig what he did at school, he might say:
“We had math and science, then had lunch, went to the *&*^&^ playground, then had spelling and reading and then came home.”
Sometimes, we could be two or three sentences past what Craig said before it would sink in. Why? Because he never changed the tone of his voice. No inflection, no giggling…nothing to indicate anything out of the ordinary had occurred. It would just hit you like a pie in the face…shocking!
Once you explained to him that he wasn’t allowed to use certain words, that was the end of it. But you must give the kid props…he got them into sentences at least once!
I never was one to curse, just for the sake of it. Oh, if something scared me or I hurt myself, a word or two might slip out. But they never became part of my regular speech…and for that, I’m very grateful.
Jim, however, has found that during certain times of his life, this has been an issue. Whether it was high school, on sport’s teams or early jobs, changing tires on semi-trucks or on the building crew where he works now, he would fall into the pattern of using certain words more and more. In fact, some words were used quite frequently as adjectives and the longer it went on, the more difficult it was for him to control.
Over the past two years, Jim has been working to control his speech and has become more aware of his own failings and certainly the language of those people that he encounters daily. It’s hard to overcome a weakness when what you are trying to conquer stares you in the face constantly. It’s like working in a bar and trying to give up smoking.
In the past few months, Jim turned to St. Joan of Arc for help. St. Joan of Arc is the patron saint of many things, including the patron saint against swearing. She once caused an army of battle-hardened soldiers to cease cursing. The story goes that one soldier refused to stop, even laughing at her when she told him, “How can you sin when you are so close to death?” A half of an hour later, he fell into a well and drowned.
We began praying daily to St. Joan of Arc and I must say, at least around me, I can tell what a difference it has made. When Jim does slip, he usually catches himself mid word and stops it before it makes a full appearance. I think like most vices, this will be one he’ll have to consciously fight the rest of his life. But by arming himself with prayer and the prayers of a saint, it makes the battle a little easier to fight.
I told you that my battle isn’t usually with the words I speak…but that’s only half of the battle. There are times that those very words fly into my head, rousing me up to an angry pitch that I have to fight to control. The tongue is the last stop for them…in order to conquer them, the true battle begins much deeper: in my mind and in my heart.
The only way I know to clear those words and thoughts are to fill my mind and soul with other words. Words of praise and adoration. Words of thanksgiving and gratitude. Not only to put those words into myself, but to pray them aloud, several times a day.
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So, I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. -Psalm 63:1-8
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. -Psalm 51:11-15
I pray each day to Mother Mary to walk beside me, because I know the closer I walk with her, the closer I am to her son. I’m proud of Jim for working so hard to rein in his speech and continue to lift him in prayer daily as he “enters the lion den”, surrounded by others who don’t try to control their speech, and for Jim’s strength to keep them from his own heart.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. -Ephesians 4:29