Having children seems to amplify our selfish tendencies. And from my experience, our children tend toward the same sinful patterns as their parents. Such was the case in our household regarding my lack of ability to tame my tongue.
When I was two and a half years old, my mom recounts me mimicking everything I heard. Not unusual, however, one day I blurted out an expletive that shocked my unsuspecting mother. “Beth, do not say that! It is a naughty word!” She pondered where I had heard such a word and finally realized that two old ladies had watched me while she and my dad were busy. They were sweet, but they swore like sailors. I said the word again with the right inflection and in the right timing, and I was told again to stop saying it. Later that day my mom saw me go over to the wall and whisper something quietly. As she approached, she realized that I was swearing against the wall instead of blurting it out loud. A two year old does that! In my little spirit I knew it was wrong but found my way around the punishment to continue to be inappropriate.
When one of our sons was about nine years old, he used a swear word over and over again. It wasn’t a word that everyone considers a swear word, but it was one in our home. Likely he heard me say it in moments of exasperation, I must confess. The intonation and timing of the word usage made clear his intention was to use the word as a swear word, and he used it effectively. Repeatedly, we warned him: “That is inappropriate,” “We don’t talk that way,” etc. but to no avail, it continued. Finally I exclaimed, “If you say that again, I will wash your mouth out with soap!” That statement from my parents when I was a middle-school girl had stopped me in my tracks from continuing to swear – in their earshot at least!
Not long afterward, our son swore again. I knew I needed to follow through on my threat of discipline. We went to the bathroom and all I could find was liquid hand soap. I put some on my finger and swiped it across his tongue. I had incorrectly thought, “This will be better than bar soap and will be quick and easy.” He began to heave and gag and vomit. I was mortified and wondered if I had poisoned my son! He survived! The foul language got better, and he got the point.
About a week later I heard him yelling for me from upstairs.
“Mom, Mom! I need soap in my mouth!”
“Did you say it again, son?”
“No, I just thought it and I want to be sure I don’t think it again. The soap in my mouth will help me to remember!”
There was no way I was going to repeat the previous punishment. Instead we had a talk about confession, repentance and forgiveness. I was struck by his desire to be obedient and right before the Lord.
After those moments I went to my bedroom alone and wept almost uncontrollably. How could a young boy be so aware of his own sin, confess it and repent so quickly? He requested a punishment that caused him to be violently ill the last time. He desired not only a clean mouth but also a clean mind. My tears signaled a two-fold issue in my heart:
- I was thankful that he wanted to be right before the Lord and obedient to his parents.
- It was as if the Lord was quickening my own spirit. “Does your sin (Beth) grieve you as it grieves Me?
A new season began in my heart. I felt like a failure as a mom by inflicting a potentially harmful discipline on my son. I felt like a failure as a believer to not be sensitive to my own sin the way my son was sensitive to his sin. I asked the Lord to give me a soft heart to Him and to allow me to see my sin as He sees it, to be willing to confess, repent and receive forgiveness quickly and openly. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” (Psalm 51:10) became my prayer. Lord, continue to make me as aware of my sinfulness, as it truly is an affront to your character. Recently I prayed through Psalm 51:1-12 and asked the Lord to purify me again. Perhaps you would find it helpful as well. It is written below for easy reference! May we all seek to have clean hearts and minds and to be refreshed by the Lord, especially in our failures and weaknesses.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”