Come closer… I have something to share with you. That’s right, right up here, near the screen. Closer… closer… this is in the strictest of confidences. I want to show you my bite-sized, transparent, dare I say it? yes, I dare… sexy little accessory, that I am going to be wearing every night. I put it on and am immediately transformed from a dull, aging, exhausted mom into a sumptuous bit o’stuff. I’m not brave enough to post mine on here for the world to see; that would be indecent! So, I’ll put in a nondescript stock photo. That’s right, I’m talking about my mouthguard. Women, hide your husbands!
I had to start wearing a mouthguard because I couldn’t sleep. I’m still getting used to it, so, I still can’t sleep, but at least I’m not waking up worried that I’m crushing the usefulness out of my teeth. Your uppers smash your lowers at about 175 psi when you chew food, so I’ve read, but, when you grind your teeth at night — like I do, there isn’t anything to absorb the impact of your chomp, so, it can be up to 300 psi coming down on your poor bottom teeth. As someone who recently had to have a root canal because of this habit, I’ll take the sexy mouth guard over more painful (and scary!) dental work.
Our mouths are pretty powerful instruments. It’s not the food-pulverizing jaw that the Bible says is the most powerful, not the teeth, with their ability to tear flesh… it’s the tongue. James 3:8 says “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” We turn those tongues on one another, to slander, to kill, to steal, to destroy. Our tongues are the demons of our bodies (or so it seems). I think they have the potential for good, but how often are they used that way?
Twice this week, I have confessed a sin that I struggle with more than all others: anger. Wrath. One of those seven deadlies, but really, all sin is deadly, because it separates us from Life in the Father. Twice this week, I told church people how much I struggle with this sin and twice those church people made excuses for me. “We all get angry.” “Everyone gets frustrated and speak out in anger.” “Jesus was angry in the temple…” I can understand those explanations, we feel justified if everyone else is doing it, too. Anger doesn’t seem all that bad when you consider rape and murder and child pornography, but wrath separates us from one another and from God. Paul told the Ephesians to “Put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and evil speaking with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (4:31-32).
I speak in anger, too often, to my children, who don’t understand about how much pressure a set of jaws can produce, or how many teeth they have, or what the tongue is for (other than sticking it out at one another!). They know how badly my anger can injure their feelings or make them feel bad, instead of just hyper. They know how to turn their tongues on one another, and cut each other down with a quick “you’re not my friend anymore” or the ever ominous “wait until Mom finds out what you did.” I am struggling to deal with anger while they are learning from me. I want to teach them better than that.
As a person who studies rhetoric (I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am an orator, or a rhetorician, but a student), I believe words have power. They have the power to heal and the power to deflect violence and the power to wound. The Word of God is sometimes called the double-edged sword, from Hebrews 4:12, which can divide the soul from the bones and marrow. Words, especially wise words, especially divine words, are powerful things. Back in James, Chapter 3, we hear the tongue described like a bit in the horse’s mouth, just a small thing that leads the horse and cart, and as a rudder on a ship, just a small little thing that can change the direction of the entire vessel.
I wish there were daytime mouthguards that would keep me from speaking out in anger. If actual devices existed to shut down my disdainful comebacks and biting replies, I would be first in line at the mouthguard store. There are ways of taming the tongue, despite what James says, and the best way I know is to turn it over. Let the Holy Spirit take hold of the rudder and shift your direction; let him have the bit and lead you to speak peace.