I have danced and wrestled with words my whole life. My father taught me how to court them, pay attention to them, and to love them.
One of the most memorable gifts Dad ever gave me was a little volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets and love poems. On the day he gave that book to me, he confessed that he had taken a similar volume with him when he went into the service in 1944. He carried it in a duffel bag throughout the war.
When I asked him what a word meant when I was a boy, Dad would often say: “Look it up.” That was some of the best career advice I ever got. Fifty years later, I still look up words every day. I even read the dictionary on a regular basis. (Hey, I heard that! “Word geek.”)
To say that I love words is vastly understating the case. I want them to love me back so I have to take care of them. This love is conditional.
I used a lot of bad language when I was a boy. It went on for years until one day the Spirit healed my mind. It literally happened in one day. It was not gradual. It was like a divine hand turned off a switch. I was 17 years old. I have never gone back to my cowboy-word days.
Our words are our words. We own them unless we let them own us.
Our words are fire. They are the embers of our souls. They can sanctify or destroy, save or condemn.
They are investments that either lose or gain value, depending on how we use them. They are enchantments that vex or heal.
Words cannot escape your lips without your permission. Don’t give any words that you don’t like permission to leave your body. (The next step is to not let them live in your body, but that discussion is for another day.)
How we use them is our choice, but sometimes they feel out of control. If they feel that way for you, I have something you can try: Create a fire line.
One tactic for fighting wildfires is to get out ahead of the fire and cut a gash in the terrain to stop the fire—to clear away any flammable material so the fire has nothing to burn.
The fire line I’m suggesting is a commitment on principle, a commitment so strong that when a destroying fire reaches it, it has nothing to burn.
Here is one fire line I have adopted:
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesian 4:29–32.)
I have memorized these verses. I repeat them to myself often. With spiritual mortar I have laid them into my foundation. Another favorite verse:
And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. (D&C 50:23.)
If I am not building up, I am tearing down, and if I am tearing down, I am walking in darkness.
And I’ve gone a little deeper. I have made a personal commitment to never speak ill of another person nor speak negatively of anyone or anything. Does that sound hard? It isn’t. You get stronger and stronger over time.
If you make commitments and really perspire when keeping them, the commitments will become part of you. You won’t be perfect in keeping them, but they will make you mindful. They will make you work harder. They will make you face your shame. They will make you accountable. They will protect and heal you. I promise.
Let me conclude with one of my favorite scriptures—a great reminder from King Benjamin to mind my words:
I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not. (Mosiah 4:29–30).
Your commitment is a fire line. It will keep your combustibles under control.
Words were meant to be your friends, not your enemies.
I hope to write more about this soon.