My family and I recently watched the movie "The King's Speech." If you're not familiar with the movie, the IMDb website describes "The King's Speech" this way: "Tells the story of the man who became King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II. After his brother abdicates, George ('Bertie') reluctantly assumes the throne. Plagued by a dreaded stammer and considered unfit to be king, Bertie engages the help of an unorthodox speech therapist named Lionel Logue. Through a set of unexpected techniques, and as a result of an unlikely friendship, Bertie is able to find his voice and boldly lead the country through war."
It was a wonderful movie, as truth usually is much better than fiction. I was struck by the relationship that the King had with his speech therapist. As I've shared before, true friends in this life are a very rare blessing.
But that's not what I want to talk about today.
The part of the King's story that stood out the most to me was his ability to say curse words without any hesitance, but regular words took so much more of his concentration and effort. Human nature is so interesting. As a general rule we can quickly accuse someone of a wrong doing with an entire list of inappropriate words, but it's much harder for us when we've wronged someone else to say these two simple words, "I'm sorry."
The King had a stammer that he struggled with for most of his life. He struggled to say the most basic of words and phrases. But when his speech therapist gave him curse words to say.....they would just roll off of his tongue.
Many years ago, Shannon and I stepped in to be substitute teachers for our Sunday school class. The lesson we were given to do was on "Taming the Tongue" from the book of James.
Shannon and I were both very nervous about taking the lesson on, but we agreed to do it anyway. We put our heads together and prayed.
Here are the verses from James that we were going to cover.
Taming the Tongue
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
The Saturday evening before the class, we went for a walk together to discuss the lesson for Sunday school, and then we had to stop in at Walmart to pick up a few things. In order to speed up the shopping, Shannon went and picked up a few items around the store, and I decided to pick out all of the produce that we needed.
While trying to sort through some bags of grapes to determine what was seedless and what was not, I heard a young man ask over my shoulder, "Are these grapes seedless?" (Now he had quite a stammer, so it took him a bit to get all of those words out.) I patiently let him finish his question, then answered, "Yes, they are. I was having trouble figuring that out myself." Then I smiled at him.
He looked at me and smiled, then proceeded with so much struggle to try and say something else to me. He was trying so hard, but he could not get the words out. He even started growling like a bear. I wasn't sure what to make of all of that noise. (It made me think of Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter" saying to Doolittle, "Stop makin' that noise, Doo! You sound like an old bear growling." But I digress.) I did not want to be rude, but Shannon was motioning for me to come on, as he was done with his part of the shopping, so I asked, "Are you trying to say, 'Thank you?'" To which he replied with a huge sigh of relief, "Yes!"
I told him that it was no problem, and I was happy to help. He then starts trying to say something else to me all the while growling like a bear. I realized that most people would probably be taken aback by all of that growling and never give him the time of day, so I wanted to let him say what he was obviously desperate to say.
He said (with still much struggle) that several years earlier he had been in a motorcycle accident that left him with brain damage. He said he struggles being able to speak. He can curse very easily, but normal words and phrases are much more difficult for him to get out.
He went on to tell me that he had been "caned" since his accident. I said, "Excuse me?" So he explained. He said that one day while shopping, he got so frustrated trying to ask for help, that he started spewing curse words....At about that same time an older woman with a cane walked up and hit him with it. She told him that curse words of that kind were uncalled for, and that he should work on saying nicer things.
He said it taught him a lesson, so now he tries very hard to stop cursing so much, especially when other people are around. Instead of cursing, he growls. I laughed with him as I said, "Well, I totally understand. I don't have a brain injury, and sometimes it is a struggle for me too. Oh, who am I kidding? It's a struggle for me a lot of the time. Maybe I should start growling too.";)
As we wrapped up our conversation, he tried again (with much struggle) to thank me for taking the time to listen to him. Shannon walked over to me as the man walked off and asked, "So, who's the new boyfriend? Ya'll sure did talk a long time." ;)
I told him about the conversation, and like me, he was so tickled at how God works. We had just been on a walk together, wondering what on earth we were going to use as examples of "Taming the Tongue" in class Sunday morning, and there, over the mixed up bags of grapes, God placed that example right in our path.
As I was talking to Shannon about the man and his struggle, it still struck me how even with brain damage, it was easier for him to spew curse words than to say the two simple words, "Thank you." But at that same token, even with brain damage, he still made an incredible effort each day to growl instead of curse when he was frustrated. That really humbled me, because I have NO excuse.
Even though curse words come more easily for me than even I care to admit, other hateful words have not always come as easily (until I turned 40 that is, but I'll talk about that in a different post). I know there have been times in my life that I have LONGED to say something to someone that has hurt me. I have thought to myself, "If only I could say this or that to a particular person, I would feel so much better!!" But the truth is, even if that person deserves every hurtful word that I could think of to say to them...it will never make me feel better to hurt them with my words. In fact, the times that I have been able to say the very "ugly" thing I wanted to say, it only made me feel worse.
One of my favorite scenes from the movie "You've Got Mail" tells exactly what I'm trying to say. The scene is an email exchange between Joe and Kathleen.
Here are their words.
Joe: Do you ever feel you become the worst version of yourself? That a Pandora's Box of all the secret hateful parts --your arrogance, your spite, your condescension -- has sprung open. Someone provokes you, and instead of just smiling and moving on, you zing them. Hello, it's Mr. Nasty. I'm sure you have no idea what I'm talking about.
Kathleen replies: I know what you mean and I'm completely jealous. What happens to me when I'm provoked is that I get tongue-tied. My mind goes blank. Then I spend all night tossing and turning trying to think of what I should have said.
To which Joe responds: Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could pass all my zingers to you and then I would never behave badly and you could behave badly all the time and we'd both be happy? On the other hand, I must warn you that when you finally have the pleasure of saying the thing you mean to say at the moment you mean to say it, remorse inevitably follows.
Remorse inevitably follows...Let those words sink in.
"By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever harmed his stomach." ~Winston Churchill
It's interesting to me how we work on our physical bodies to make our muscles stronger, but the muscle in our body that needs the most attention, we let atrophy....which is something for us all to ponder.
"The tongue is the strongest muscle in the human body; use yours to lift someone up today." ~Terri Ann Armstrong
If you have not seen "The King's Speech," here is the movie trailer to watch. If you watch the movie, keep your own tongue in mind as you watch the King struggle to tame his. If you're like me, you may see yourself in his struggle.
"Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it." ~Robert Frost