A Mouth That Got Washed Out
by Laura MacCorkle
Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.
Psalm 141:3, NIV
Have you ever had your mouth washed out? I have. Not recently, thankfully. But when I was still a child.
It happened while my mother and I were talking at the dinner table. In fact, my whole family was on hand as we were finishing up our evening meal. I remember disagreeing with something she had said or maybe just not liking whatever instruction she had given to me. And before I knew it, out came the dreaded words.
I knew that I shouldn’t say them.
They were forbidden in my household.
I knew that they were disrespectful.
They were so very far from honoring my mother.
And yet, I wasn’t deterred.
So out they came …
“Shut up!” Gulp. Before I knew it, my mother took me by the collar and marched me down the hallway to the bathroom. On went the faucet. Whether it was hot or cold water, I can’t remember.
Next, the bar of soap was quickly lathered into a frenzy. And then the unthinkable: my mother washed out my mouth. Suds and all. For what seemed like HOURS.
I know that I gagged, and I’m sure I played it up for dramatic effect as I cried with giant tears and struggled against the cleansing agents (my mom and the soap). But you know what? It worked. Never again did I say “shut up” to my mother. I had learned that lesson. And my mouth was a little less full of bacteria to boot!
At this point in my life, I’d like to share with you that this act of getting my mouth washed out has translated into all of my speech patterns and conversations going forward. But alas, as someone who is afflicted with chronic foot-in-mouth disease and having a mind that thinks and reacts quickly combined with a tongue that is happy to join forces and play along, I routinely find myself feeling sorrowful for things that I have just said.
While the tongue may be one of the smallest parts of the human anatomy, could it not be one of the most dangerous? In all of our cases, a thousand times yes! (James 3:6).
Like David, in Psalm 141, I know that there is one side of me that really does want to please the Lord with my speech and make sure that it is right and pure. But then there’s that other side that really wants to appear witty and funny and, yes, truthful. But what may seem witty and funny and “truthful” to me can very quickly become that which kills a relationship, crushes a spirit, pollutes a mind, spreads hurtful information or divides a family or a group of friends.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,” says Ephesians 4:29. “But only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
So today, I’m going to do a virtual cleansing of my mouth. And then I’ll take a thorough mental inventory and do some soul-searching to see what other unkind or sinful words I’m being convicted of saying.
Will join with me? Let’s ask the Lord to help us be wiser and more edifying in our conversations (Proverbs 15:4). Let’s think before we speak (Proverbs 13:3). Let’s say less and listen more (Proverbs 21:23). And then let’s see what happens in our interactions with others (Proverbs 16:24) and in our walk with the Lord (Psalm 51:15).
Intersecting Faith & Life: Write or print out Ephesians 4:29 and affix it to your bathroom mirror, your rearview mirror in your car, somewhere on your desk or at your kitchen sink, or wherever you will see it the best. I’ve already done so, and I hope that we will both be able to hide these words in our hearts over the coming week and think about them as we speak.
Psalm 19:14, NIV
Psalm 37:30, NIV
Proverbs 16:21, NIV