Last week my ten-year-old asked me what the F-word means. I had banned a song from his playlist because it said, "Mutha-Fo" and I told him that it was another form of the F-word, which we may never say. And I get it that his natural, subsequent question would be, "Well, what does it mean when people say it?"
"Why, have you heard someone saying it? What did they say?"
He stammers now.
"I mean, like, why do they say, 'What the F-' or what does that mean?"
"Well, it means the same as when you say, 'What the heck'."
He's still confused. Trying to piece together in his still-concrete thinking why swearing exists. I ponder concrete shoes and millstones and pray for peace answers. Why do people use certain words when there are perfectly good others that aren't quite so nasty or vile or degrading? It's not connecting for him yet, so I keep driving and ask the Spirit for help. I try again.
"What makes a swear word aren't the letters in the word. It's the heart of the person behind the words coming out of their lips.That's what really matters. Most of the time when people swear, they're either angry out of control or they're not taking their words seriously or honestly enough. And that's not really honoring God, now, is it?"
"No." He stares straight forward and the snowflakes keep falling on the windshield.
"Who made your mouth, Son?"
"God." It's every sunday-school answer but I'll take it.
"Right, and who gave us words?"
"Uh-huh, and why did He do that?"
"Idunno." He chuckles and then so do I.
"Because He wanted to give you a choice to choose good. And that means filling your mouth with praises and prayers and telling other people about the Gospel of Grace. That's why He gave you a mouth and words."
"Then why do people swear?"
And how do I answer? It's like he's asking why do people do stupid things or why do people sin? Why are people human? Is there an answer to that one?
"Well, Bud - we all have a choice, but the devil wants us to choose wrong. He takes God's good gifts and he makes them gross, twisted, and evil."
A light comes on in his eyes. I glance over and catch the flash. "Yeah, he destroys everything, huh?"
"Well, not everything. But a lot. You know what I think swearing is like, especially words like that?"
I glimpse the curiosity like a rope binding his heart to mine and I know God's here, right here, in the car, doing this, right now. I've got my son's heart and he's open to the love and wisdom God's pouring through me. I go for it.
"It's like putting poop in your mouth."
"Yeah, not a good choice, huh?"
"Ew." He's struck. He can't get over the image. I'm kind-of glad.
"God made your mouth to be full of His praise, Son. The devil wants to put disgusting poopy words in your mouth, and they're not only the traditional cuss words. With an evil heart you could make anything a cuss word, if you try. The point is not always the word, it's what you're really saying. But I know you want to make better choices than that, right?"
We're almost to the school now, and my fleeting instruction time is almost gone. Will this be a moment he'll remember when he's eighteen, when he's forty? I ruffle his hair and he brushes back my hand.
"Yeah, mom. I do." And the way he pauses, stares - I can tell he's changed, convicted.
He puts the mirror down and fixes his hair.
A smile creeps across my face and inside I'm full of gratitude and humility. What a privilege it is to be His vessel. I had no idea when I'd woken up that morning that the Holy Spirit wanted to encounter my son's need for an understanding of holy speech and precious words. But He saw it - every bit of it - before it all. All I had to do was pray and open my mouth. He really did the rest, the teaching, the piercing.
And what joy to feel my mouth full of His wisdom words! I never would have guessed that would be the image needed to convict my boy's heart, but in His infinite wisdom, God knew it would take a disgusting image to display a disgusting choice and call a sin a sin. He can do that, you know.
That's why I'm convicted, too. Shattered in repentance at the fecal matter that has filled my mouth, and more than ready to spit it all out and rinse with holy mouthwash-praise. Eager to proclaim gratitude and thanks. A few of my word-thanks today:
- "What you say can mean life or death.
Those who speak with care will be rewarded." -Proverbs 18:21 (NCV)
- precious words of wisdom from my mentor, Cathy
- pediatrician proclaiming good news - we haven't had to see him since our last physical!
- reconciliation, the conversation, the ministry, the actual doing of it
- all of Your Word - full of intercession and promises and hope
- message for fresh strength for today (Isaiah 40:31)
- "The only real difference in Paul's life is that he became centered on the freedom of Christ's presence, which enabled him to love God by serving others instead of being obsessed about his own religious achievements." - Gary Thomas in Authentic Faith
- reading The Hiding Place [Corrie ten Boom] to K, and showing her another side of history - the side of love
Lord, thank You for words. Language is so precious. Wield Your Sword in me today again. Show me more of what it means to choose my words well and to opt for that which is precious and not what is worthless. I love You, Jesus. You are worthy of us all choosing our words well.