Eliminating opportunities

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:4)

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

I’ve always been a rather sarcastic person, and the company I keep is, too. I’ve often thought of the jokes we make and the teasing we do in light of the above verses, but I’ve always concluded that it’s not really a big deal because we don’t intend anything hurtful by it. Our jokes and our teasing come from a place of love, honest. And we pass it like it’s hot, so it’s not like we’re not dishing out just as much as we’re taking–everyone knows there’s love there. It’s friendly banter, that’s all.

But last weekend I had an experience that showed me why Paul said these things to those early churches and emphasized just how serious an instruction this is.

I was sitting around a table with family and friends, and the discussion was about flower crowns, which I guess some around the table considered to be silly. I piped up in defense of flower crowns (I think they’re pretty, y’all). Someone else at the table then turned and made the comment that I must be one of those “basic white girls.”

Here’s the thing: I am convinced that this person in no way meant that as an insult. I don’t hang out with him often, but I just know that wasn’t his intent. I’m not even sure that he knew the seriously derogatory things other people mean when they use the term “basic.” I’m sure he just meant that my defense of flower crowns showed a propensity toward trends/fads–which I can’t actually deny. I joked about it right back at him and that was the end of it.

At least until two days later.

A normal weekday afternoon found me sitting at my computer during Little Rabbit’s nap, and suddenly the memory of that conversation popped into my head. Except I wasn’t remembering it with amusement. Instead, the memory brought up feelings of shame and unworthiness. I tried to shake it all afternoon, but I ended up wiping away more than one tear as I fought the lie that I really am “basic” in the worst sense–uninteresting, unlovable, not worth knowing or bothering with. I sometimes struggle with “performance anxiety,” as Donald Miller puts it, and feelings of failure hammered me hard that afternoon.

None of that came up in me during the conversation around the dinner table. None of it. But two days later, Satan used an innocent joke to tear me up. He showed me that memory with an ugly filter on it and used it as the starting point for a campaign of lies and deceit.

As I prayed for God to guard my heart and tried to focus on truth instead, I realized that I needed the lesson in this. I needed to see my own sarcasm objectively and know that it’s not always so innocent. In that moment, I knew I should be more careful with what I tell others about themselves. Even if I mean things in a lighthearted way–even if it’s just a joke–I never know what’s in their heart, what they struggle with deep down or even subconsciously. I have no idea what Satan could use as a foothold. I could be reinforcing or providing fodder for his lies with my joking and teasing.

I’m sure someone out there is thinking that this is just one more example of how my over-sensitive generation needs to be coddled. I’m certain several eyes are being rolled right this minute because I can’t even take a joke and because it’s just a word that, when most people use it, means nothing so horrible. And who knows, maybe those people are right. But I don’t think so. I think there’s a reason Paul wrote what he did. I am no biblical scholar, of course. I don’t have a theology degree. I’m not a religious teacher in any way, and I will never claim to be. But it seems to me that this is probably why Paul instructed us to avoid coarse joking and instead speak words that build each other up. “It’s just a joke,” we think. But there’s a liar prowling around who might see it as an opportunity, instead.

God, thank you for speaking to this area of my life. Help me guard my speech fiercely and carefully, eliminating words that might open doors for the evil one to walk through. Help me to speak love and truth to those around me. 

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