I Swear

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When I was nine years old, I met a new neighbor. I was so excited to have a girl about my age living right next door! Then one day as we walked up the road to her house, she started to smack-talk about her family. She swore and cursed like any seasoned sailor. I panicked. My heart raced and tears pricked my eyes. I made some lame excuse and ran back home. On the couch, my mother stroked my hair as I cried. I cried because the words kept circling around and around in my head. I felt so dirty. My mom suggested I speak the words just to get them out in the open. I did, and finally, the swirling slowed and my sobs could be soothed.

Seven years later, I found myself a part of a similar scene but in a different role. A close high school friend and I were at an amusement park. We decided to go mid-week, a Thursday, when not many people would be there. We wound through an empty queue lane for a roller coaster, only a couple other people approaching the ride as well. As we got closer, I saw how intimidating the coaster truly was. "Holy crap!" I exclaimed in amazement. Even as the words left my mouth, I inwardly cringed. Not because of the word itself, but my voice sounded foreign and cracked and horribly unlike my own. I glanced at the mother and six-year-old walking in front of us. The kid, just turning away from smiling back at me, said to his mother, "Holy crap!" She shushed him and glared side-long over her shoulder at me. The full shame of my careless words swept over me. I had so much power with this kid who I'd never even seen before in my life, and I blew it. I was supposed to be the responsible teenager, not the bad influence. I resolved to be more careful around young ones. I didn't realize that I was still a young one too.

My younger self respected several people for truly admirable reasons who also happened to swear. So long as the words didn't abuse, they saw no harm in saying them. I frowned deeply every time I heard them speak such things. After a while, I began to consider their view of cursing, simply to empathize with my fellow human beings rather than judge them. I saw it how they saw it, and my compassion for them grew. Yet I made a mistake: I considered the truth in their perspective without considering the truth in my own. I said to myself, "Perhaps cursing and swearing aren't so vulgar as I thought. Does it truly matter if I speak them? They're only words." Without realizing what was happening, my frown transformed into apathy, and I believed swearing wasn't harmful.

No dramatic change in word-choice accompanied my new perspective. It took several months for the shift to manifest itself. First I started making jokes with foul words during light-hearted banter. Then I began swearing when I stubbed my toe or banged my head on a cabinet. Eventually, I came to swear in highly emotional states like anger or anguish. For over two years, I swore at this level without feeling much—if any—remorse. Only now that I am twenty-one have I finally begun to see the change and its effects.

And I'm appalled.

Apathy in this regard created a chink in my armor in the battle against other sin. Media I would have filtered out based on language, I didn't, and thus I read and watched undeniably sinful things I wouldn't have otherwise. Additionally, I have less self-control in certain areas. It's a habit now, an impulse, to curse when I accidentally hurt myself or am surprised by frustration. Every day, I struggle to keep a foul word from crossing my lips. This lack of self-control is most grievous to me when I think of it in tandem with the future.

Someday, I hope to marry and have children. I desperately don't want my kids to repeat such words because I modeled the behavior for them. The memory of my influence on the child at the theme park still makes my stomach roll, even five years and a lot of life later. I dread to think that someday I could again create the same scenario, but with my own child and a word less innocent. I long to be free of the habit of swearing without thinking, but I believe, as with all habits, it will take more time and effort than I'd prefer. This memory drives me forward though, as do other more present motivations.

I can be vicious. Maybe not openly so, but biting passive-aggression comes easily to me. I hate this potential for wounding others. I hate that I've used it. And I hate that sometimes vile words twisted the knife I yielded even deeper. Cursing and swearing are intimately tied to the abuse of others. Maybe someone can swear without being abusive, but I've never heard of an emotional abuser who doesn't use deriding and foul language.

This association epitomizes my desire to change. Words are incredibly powerful. My God created the entire heavens and earth with words. He breathed life into man with a word, and He can take take it away again just as easily. The most powerful weapon Christ gave to His followers was Scripture, words. He is even called the Word in the gospel of John. Words are not just sound waves passing through the air. They convey meaning. They can give life or destroy it. Words matter.

My words matter.

The power of life and death is in the tongue. I want to speak life, not anything even associated with death.

Sometimes, I wish I could go back. Back to when I was a little girl and so affected by simply hearing another speak death-producing words that I cried. Back to when I didn't even know such words existed. A wish to start over won't change the now, but perhaps reflection on the past can reveal a path forward.

My nine-year-old self spoke the words she heard to get them out of her head, but I don't believe repeating them here and now would do any good for me. They mostly exit my mouth unbidden, disconnected from my mind. Calling them forward would only make me more vulnerable to speaking them.

However, this secret—the reality that I curse in emotionally-charged private situations—is swirling around and 'round in my head. If I get it out into the open, perhaps the swirling will finally stop. And perhaps, after twelve long years, my word-torn heart will be fully comforted.