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Choosing and Using our Words Prudently

the way we speak

I go through seasons of using different catchphrases and filler words when speaking. In high school, I overused “like” to no end. As a teacher, my students kindly pointed out to me that I ended every sentence with “okay.” Recently, I have noticed that “or whatever” has infiltrated my vocabulary.

Though my use of “like” and “okay” bothered me, my use of “or whatever” has struck a different, frustrated chord that I want to unpack.

The Implications of “Or Whatever”

I know that often I use “or whatever” innocently, merely as a filler in conversation to replace words like “so” or “like” or “yeah.” But I have also noticed that sometimes I use this phrase when speaking rashly. Or that I use it as a shield, an opportunity to not fully commit to what I am saying out of fear of what other people will think.

I have also noticed that it makes sense that society has gravitated toward this phrase because it reflects a worldly, relativistic perspective. One that ascertains that we are entitled to do and say whatever we want. My use of “or whatever” frustrates me because I don’t want my speech to reflect entitlement. I don’t want my conversation to be full of word vomit. I want my words to be focused and clear and meaningful.

Jesus: Terse, Concise, Compelling

In articulating my desire to cleanse my vocabulary of “or whatever”, the Lord has gently reminded me that our words carry weight and shouldn’t be used recklessly. I need to be prudent with my language. Just as Jesus is, the Lord wants us to be emphatic and convicted yet shrewd in our speech.

When Jesus speaks, His words are concise, often terse, and full of profound emotion and meaning. From commanding a man ill for thirty-eight years at the pool of Bethesda in John 5:1-9 to “Rise, take up your mat, and walk,” to reminding us in John 15:12 that “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you,” Jesus speaks calmly, decisively and emphatically. He isn’t loose or ambiguous with His words.

While many of my words have caused more harm than the use of “or whatever,” in examining my frustration with this phrase, I recognize that I desire to communicate like Jesus did. I want to articulate, to choose, to use my words carefully.

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Prudence with Words

In addition to using Jesus as a model for speaking directly and avoiding careless speech, throughout the Old Testament, I am also reminded that God actually commands us to be purposeful and prudent with our words.

Proverbs 31:26 tells us that “She opens her mouth in wisdom; kindly instruction is on her tongue.”

Further, in Proverbs 10:19 God reminds us that “Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but those who restrain their lips do well.”

How beautiful that in gifting us with the ability to speak, God gently tells us that we are to be sage and thoughtful with our words. How beautiful that He has given us the capacity and opportunity to discern restraint and prudence with our words.

Precision of Language

God doesn’t call us to be lukewarm in the way we communicate. Scripture isn’t filled with “or whatever.” The Word is filled with conviction, with confidence. It’s precise, it’s assertive, it’s energetic. It’s sure, it’s cogent, it’s compelling, it’s true.

I want my communication to reflect Scripture. I want my words to be pure, convincing, and powerful because they are rooted in God’s love, not in my earthly stream of consciousness.

Whether struggling with breaking the habit of “or whatever,” of gossip, or of the inability to be articulate, may we pray to our God of grace, healing and abundant wisdom for prudence and guidance that we may use our words to build His Kingdom.

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Mercedes Shirts lives in Idaho, land of the potatoes, with her husband, bulldog, and cat. When not indulging in a good read and black coffee, she enjoys eating street tacos, running, and listening to Texas country music. You can find out more about her here.

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