No one can tame the tongue. We use it to say, “Praised be our God and Creator,” then we use it to curse each other—we who are created in the image of God. - James 3:8-9 (The Inclusive Bible)
“Dad, I have to tell you something,” she said cautiously.
“Yes honey, what is it?”
“I…I know some bad words.”
I was interested to know what words she thought were bad, so we worked our way through the alphabet.
Afterwards she asked, “Why do kids say those words? I think they just want to sound like grown-ups. But that’s not how grown-ups talk, right Dad?”
“That’s right, sweetie. I love you. Good night.”
I got a little misty, marking this childhood milestone of curse-word acquisition. But it also made me think that I need to be more careful about what I say.
Honestly, I’m not too worried about the kind of “bad words” my child listed. What I want her to learn is the power of words to affirm, encourage, and build up a person—and the power of words to demonize, dehumanize, and tear down. I need to model that for my child. This is where the author of James calls me out, and where my child’s question calls me in.
Years ago, a friend observed that I could seemingly “find something bad to say about anyone.” It stung because it was true. Being a parent makes me want to change that in myself so that I do not pass that on to my daughter.
If she hears me cutting down and tearing up others, how could she take me seriously when I chide her for gossiping or putting others down? And how can she trust that my sweet words to her are sincere and that my bitter words won’t be directed at her?
Maybe I can’t tame my tongue completely, but for my child’s sake, I’ll watch my mouth!
Holy One, may the words of my mouth honor your presence in others.
Chris Mereschuk contributed this devotional to Hard and Holy: Devotions for Parenting, a collection of devotionals for the spiritual practice of raising, teaching, learning from, delighting in, and cleaning up after children. Order Hard and Holy today.