Words matter

I need to be honest. I have a problem.

Well, really, that’s what we say instead of sin sometimes. So I’ll begin again. There is a sin that I struggle with.

I cuss. Swear. Use foul language. Often.

These words fly from my mouth mostly when I am driving, when cars pull out in front of me or keep me from getting where I want to go. But they also tear out when I am in the kitchen, when I am cooking dinner and burn the side of my hand — or even if I just splatter a bit of tomato sauce on my blouse. I use these words when I’m telling a story and I want it to be particularly colorful or get a good reaction out of my audience.

I tell myself (and others) that I’m of Scottish, Welsh and Mexican decent — all fiery, passionate people. Or that I used to be a redhead, until my hair darkened to a nice auburn.

Or I use studies to justify my sin. “You know, they say women who cuss are smarter.” Or “People who swear have a higher tolerance for pain!”

But my God says only that which is lovely should come out of my mouth.

St. Paul writes, “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). In other words, watch the way you talk. Rude and foul language should not come out of your mouth. Each word is a gift.

I’ve grown lazy and careless. The words that come out of my mouth are not gifts of grace, they slice, slash, stab and wound. Sometimes the victim is the one I meant these words for — the driver, the stranger on the street. Sometimes it is the one who overhears — my friends, my husband, my children. And sometimes I am the casualty of these words as they disconnect me from God and keep me from experiencing his grace in my life.

St. Paul says that now that we are united with Christ, we should take off our old self with its practices of “anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language” and put on the new self, as God’s “holy and beloved.” When we put on the new self, the peace of Christ controls our hearts and we are full of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” (Colossians 3:8-13).

What comes out of my mouth reflects what is in my heart. With these rotten words, I control my heart, not Christ.

This year, during Lent, the time of spiritual renewal, I will fast from swearing.

I will put on a new self, one that is thoughtful about the words that glide from my mouth. I will let the peace of Christ control my heart and my tongue, instead of my selfish desires.

It will not be easy.

But my words will be a gift — a grace.   

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - March 2020

Shemaiah Gonzalez

Shemaiah Gonzalez, a member of St. James Cathedral Parish, is a freelance writer with degrees in English literature and intercultural ministry. Find more of her writing at shemaiahgonzalez.com.

Shemaiah Gonzalez, miembro de la parroquia de la Catedral de Saint James, es escritora independiente con diplomas en Literatura inglesa y Ministerio Intercultural. Puedes encontrar más de sus redacciones en: shemaiahgonzalez.com.