Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk [ever] come out of your mouth, but only such [speech] as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it.
As a student of communication, I have extensively studied the written and spoken word and have learned that words can be used as weapons. Words may be the most powerful tools of destruction even when spoken unintentionally.
One of the earliest and most crushing sentences I’ve ever heard was as a high school senior in 1987. I had just learned I’d been accepted into the United States Military Academy and was very scared, excited and also thankful for the opportunity. The cutting words came out of the unfiltered mouth of someone I respected – my high school math teacher, Mrs. Kung, who upon learning of my good fortune and knowing my struggles with math, exclaimed in her heavy Japanese accent…. “Ah, you NEVER make it at West Point!”
I have heard that sentence over and over again for the last 30 years. It has haunted me and each time I rewind it in my head — I feel small, stupid, unworthy, and crushed.
Toni Receives West Point Diploma from President George HW Bush
On June 1, 1991, President George H.W. Bush handed my West Point diploma to me, shook my hand and saluted. The previous four years attending West Point greatly influenced my faith and strong reliance on God. That June graduation day in 1991 altered the course of my entire life and allowed me to serve this great nation, meet my husband of 25 years, have an amazing family, and go on to have significant professional and educational opportunities.
Mrs. Kung’s prediction turned out to be wrong but I’ve often wondered if it was exactly the painful motivation I needed to stir the will in me to prove I could indeed make it. Perhaps those cutting and unintentional, wounding words were exactly what made me make it? Would Mrs. Kung saying to me, “Ah, you are going to be a huge success at West Point,” even be a distant memory? I doubt it would.
As a student of human communication and a woman of strong faith, I believe biblical scriptures are the words and directives from God Himself and I’ve made it my life’s work to more fully understand how the Bible handles the subject.
The Bible tells us in Ephesians 4:29 – Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk [ever] come out of your mouth, but only such [speech] as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it.
If we take this verse at face value, we may advocate that indeed Mrs. Kung should have only spoken good and beneficial words to the young, impressionable 18-year old me, words that did not sting or wound. But, after much reflection, I now believe Mrs. Kung did exactly what this verse directs. She was authentic in her communication to me – as painful as that was – and, I believe God used her, a key figure in my youth, to ‘fit the need and the occasion’. Her words were a blessing that brought me closer in my relationship with our Creator. Her words gave God’s favor as I now have come to understand that He knew I was young in my faith and my selfish and youthful ambition to prove myself to the naysayers would override any weakness. My faith was not yet strong enough to hear the more gentle words that I now believe God speaks to me through His scripture and through others. I have come to understand that God places key people in our lives at certain times with the authentic communication we need to hear that is so powerful that it replays in our heads for 30 years motivating us!
I now recognize that Mrs. Kung was certainly not evil; she did not use foul or polluting language; she was doing exactly what the verse in Ephesians directs, she was being an ‘authentic communicator’ and I thank God for her and for speaking to me through her.
Be on the look-out for authentic communicators in your life.