Wash Your Mouth Out!
Browsing Amazon the other day, I came across this image:
Immediately, I choked!
Mom’s preferred bar of soap for getting rid of hard-to-remove stains from our clothes was “Fels-Napthah.”
She also recognized it was useful for nasty mouths. That’s right, I said, “nasty mouths.”
When I was young, many of my friends would use curse words and inappropriate language to make themselves look tough and cool.
Naturally, I wanted to be accepted by my peers. When I was with them, it seemed appropriate for me to use words and make comments that I would never dare say in front of my mom.
But, now and then, I would forget mom’s presence, and out of my mouth would fly a nasty word or rude comment.
My 4-foot, 11-inch mother, was not to be messed with. I learned this from watching my older brothers. Although they were bigger than mom, they were no match for her strength. I’d seen it too many times.
Typically, when I would utter a curse word or nasty comment, I would hear these words: “Join me in the kitchen, Richard.”
Although her tone was soft, I knew: This was not an invitation to a nice meal. Her quiet words were not a request. They demanded that I follow her to the kitchen. And, no amount of pleading could buy me a reprieve.
I knew what was coming!
Mom would stand by the sink, reach into the cabinet for her favorite bar of soap to demonstrate how effective it was in cleaning a nasty mouth.
So, mom would demonstrate just how effective her favorite bar of soap was for nasty mouths.
Today, just an image of “Fels-Naptha” soap activates my taste buds—and not in a good way!
The image of that horrible-tasting bar of soap reminded me of how fortunate I was to have a mother who cared enough to teach me why hateful speech is not suitable for me or others.
However, it’s not just curse words or statements that belittle and demean the value of others that’s inappropriate.
Jeremiah understood how the tongue can be a “deadly arrow,” and how it can speak deceitfully (Jeremiah 9:8).
His peers were professional at speaking peace to their neighbors. But inwardly, they were planning an ambush (or to do them harm).
Their words were pleasant, charming, and kind on the surface. But beneath the friendly rhetoric, the intent was corrupt. Perhaps you’ve experienced those kinds of words. Possibly you’ve believed them, only later to discover they were a facade.
The experience is hurtful and erodes trust.
Never underestimate the power of your words. Your speech—my speech—can cut and wound the spirits of others. The tongue can also be an instrument of encouragement—inspiring hope to others.
I must stop and think of how powerful my words are. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”
Think about that. The words you and I speak can contribute to life or death. Is that not reason enough to cause us to stop and think before we talk?
James gives three examples of how our tongue, such a small member of our body, has enormous force (watch this week’s video for more).
A small bit in a horse’s mouth can move a massive animal with a gentle tug.
A small rudder can steer a huge ship.
A “spark” can set an entire forest ablaze (James 3:3-5).
Here’s a question for each of us:
When was the last time I stopped to examine my speech?
I admit I don’t examine my speech often enough.
It’s easy for me to react to situations with un-filtered words, rather than reflect-fully, respectfully, and prayerfully process them before speaking.
There’s no question: Passionate opinions about any issue today (politics, religion, racism, or any other subject you can think of) can trigger emotional responses that unleash un-filtered words.
Seeing the image of that bar of “Fels-Naptha” soap reminded me of how bitter it tasted. That picture also reminded me of how bitter my words can be if I fail to guard my mouth.
My prayer is: May my words be kind, not bitter. May they offer life, not destruction. And may they always inspire hope, not despair.
How about you?