A long time ago, in a galaxy far away (okay, about 20 years ago or so), I had a potty mouth. Unashamed and completely habituated to vulgar and stupid speech, I spewed garbage like a trucker... or... like a typical secular youth.
I was 10 years old the first time I intentionally swore and tried out my new edgy style on some young friends during a family visit. They had always known me to be quiet, shy, and well-behaved so they were a bit shocked; which, of course, was the intended affect.
My bad language progressed from an occasional and purposeful dart thrown at the unsuspecting, to normal, habitual use which too easily replaced decent descriptive language. It was an easy transition to make; first, because it was easier than using more intelligent language and second, because my peer culture was awash in filth and indecency. My choice of words went hand in hand with a descent into the moral decay of secular American youth.
Fast forward to my young adult metanoia when I gave my mind, body, and soul to Jesus Christ. It was the first time in my life that I really understood, believed, and lived my Catholic faith. I felt free for the first time, alive, and completely consumed by Christ-fire. As the scales fell from my eyes and my heart burned with a convert's passion, I began to throw off the old to put on the new.
In that honeymoon stage of new faith, I was blessed with the gift of clarity about where in my life I had offended God and harmed myself and others. The Holy Spirit acted powerfully on my starving heart and busted open the door as soon as I gave my tiny yes. I went to bed hungry for that Divine Love and rose in the morning alive to His presence. The grace of conversion is powerful! And so, the scales and filth and worldly weights began to fall away quickly...
My defense of abortion fell.
My hatred of the Church fell.
My habitual lying fell.
My blindness to mortal sin fell.
My worldly view of myself and others fell.
I often wish I could go back to that convert honeymoon because it was intensely beautiful... like seeing the sun for the very first time after years underground. Painful yet exquisite. I am grateful to still have a recollection of that time to inspire me to keep my eye on the prize of heaven. True freedom, peace, and joy wait for me there.
But it was a daily struggle to chop away at the old habits and chains and to uncover who I was really made to be. One area that was obviously a problem was my speech habits. No one said "You have to do this to be a good Catholic." It was just something that I knew I had to do for Christ and for my own soul. I became more attentive to my words around my new Christian friends and realized that my crass habits did not match the change that was happening inside. I wanted to honor God, myself, and those who had to politely listen to me.
So my tongue got a scrubbing...
First, no more OMG.
I no longer dropped God's name into a conversation as if it were a meaningless exclamation point. I kicked this careless phrase to the curb even before I stopped using profanity because it made immediate sense. Besides the super obvious 3rd Commandment, I was falling in love with Him. That relationship made me sensitive to the living beauty His name. At the same time, a holy priest taught me to pray in reparation each time I heard the name of God used carelessly by anyone (including myself): "Lord, have mercy." I was able to replace a bad habit with a good one and that made the transition much easier. (Read more here: Stopping OMG)
Next, no more filthy mouth.
Did my speech reflect what was going on in my soul? How did it impact my witness to others? How did it express my love of Christ? There was no question for me that this change needed to happen but it was one of the hardest daily changes to make. I had trained myself to use those words. They were as common as "hello," "goodbye," and "Taco Bell" on my youthful tongue. I had thought them, whispered them, wrote them, laughed them, screamed them for many years. And after all that, I fought sentence by sentence to purge it all and reclaim my speech for Christ.
Not at all easy.
Language continues to be a struggle for me. In my stressful moments, certain words march to my tongue like a rebellious mob. I don't get anxious about it... I don't think I'm going to get struck down by a lightening bolt for a misstep... but I am careful to keep them reigned in. On the whole, I have conquered the tendency to slip into that aspect of my old life... into vulgarity that simply isn't consistent with the freedom and joy to which Christ has called me. But it will probably be a lifelong battle.
Fortunately, the written word is far easier to control than the spoken word. I have time before I hit publish or send to make a better choice. I have not always taken that moment but I almost always have, and I take care to nourish the desire that keeps me in the fight.
When I'm writing on this blog or on social media, I am often tempted to use those purged words. It would be SO easy... especially when I want to add strong emphasis... or to appeal to the current trend of edgy cool Catholic moms. But I'm not edgy or cool by nature or by conversion and it more consistent with my personal vocation to abstain from low speech.
It's a matter of courtesy which is an extension of charity.
Of femininity and gentleness, which is so rare.
Of respect for God and for others.
Of disciplining a tongue that easily harms.
All things which I struggled to understand and learn during my conversion and beyond.
I understand the attraction to writers who are "real" and gritty. It is not always easy to connect with those who seem out of touch, too holy, put-together, or seem uptight and we gravitate to those who don't intimidate or frustrate in those ways. But I am not obligated to please readers, only Christ.
For me, that means I will never drop an F-bomb on this site. Because even though it might pop up unbidden in my mind, my "real" is that I don't want to swear. My "real" is that I am often ugly on the inside but still fight to keep it reigned it. The most authentic thing I can give you right now is this:
Sometimes I want to swear and I choose not to. That's it. That is who I am.
This is not a judgment against other bloggers or people you know online. I am not the arbiter of who should and shouldn't swear in the context of their public witness. But this small practice has helped me focus on Christ, grow in virtue, and mature in practical ways; and I enthusiastically recommend it to others as a fruitful discipline.
I feel in many ways that I am less of a Christian than I was those 20 years ago. The fire seems to die as quickly as it is reignited and it seems like I have to fight harder for virtue even in the little things. But it is often these little things which help remind me of where I have been and where I long to be. I am so often tired. I am so often tempted to bitterness. I often feel old-ish and entitled to my worldly habits.
But He calls me back to innocence. And I will try.