This morning’s reading from our devotional By Way of the Desert had a wonderful story of some people visiting a desert hermit. There were some young men shepherding sheep near his hermitage that were constantly using foul language. They asked the man of God why he didn’t tell them to stop. He replied:
“If I can’t endure something small like this language, how will I resist a serious temptation if God permits one to come to me? Therefore, I remain silent. I am trying to learn how to bear whatever comes my way.”
This brought to mind my own experience. In my many years of being a prison chaplain, I was surrounded by people using foul language. I had no thought process like that man of God just mentioned, but I simply never mentioned it to any of them. I never thought of myself as enduring anything, I simply ignored it. Even when someone’s frustrations turned on me and they began cussing me out, God gave me the grace to respond with a “soft answer” that always seemed to “turn away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).
Over the years, some of those men would ask me how they could quit cussing. This happened many times and I always gave them the same advice:
“When you are getting ready to interact with people that you know will bring about cuss words, such as going to recreation, make the sign of the Cross over your mouth and ask Jesus to be the Lord of your mouth. Ask Him to guard every word that comes out of your mouth.”
Without exception, the next time I saw that man while making rounds, he would say something along the lines of:
“How does that work? I did what you said and I didn’t say one cuss word!”
I would respond to him: “The Lord did exactly what you asked of Him. But it likely isn’t a forever fix. You will need to repeat that often to gain victory over what comes out of your mouth.”
James 3 has a lot to say about the “tongue” and he tells us that “no man can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). But the Lord can and He will, if we ask.