When did it happen? I realized this week, as I was reading different news articles, human interest stories, and basically surfing online, that words once considered rude and vulgar have now become a part of our everyday culture. Wanting to appear sophisticated but reaching to the lowest common denominator, we have lost genuine respect and love for our society, our culture, and, worst of all, ourselves. In lives spent watching YouTube videos, surfing the web, and playing video games, we’ve lost our feelings of purpose, authority, and power in our world and in our lives. Our bored pseudo intellectualism drives us toward cultural vulgarity in the hopes that others may perceive us as superior and powerful. Instead of aiming towards self actualization and authenticity, we wallow in self denigration and abuse. And nothing is sacred, special, or set apart – no one feels special or genuinely loved.
I’m a counselor. It’s not only what I do, it’s who I am – a part of my identity. It’s hard to watch this decline and abuse of other people and to accept it for myself. Many of the words used today have long been considered abusive, sexually harassing, discriminating, and verbally assaulting. People who claim to love us have a responsibility to help maintain an environment that protects and defends us and others around us. If this environment is violated by negative attitudes and toxic language, the environment is no longer a safe place for living, learning, and beneficial development. Certainly I’ve heard the arguments in favor of releasing tension, feelings of not having control in a situation, or somehow using expletives as a method of standing up for themselves or others, but each of those arguments all end up talking about how the person using the negative language must somehow be more important that the ones hearing these outbursts. That way of thinking can be very self-preoccupied, self-absorbed, and narcissistic. Temper tantrums, selfishness, and just plain inconsiderateness abounds; and I long for the days when it was unacceptable to be self absorbed instead of the days when we all strive to be the star in our own reality shows in which the entire world revolves around us and our desires as we demand love and respect but never truly feel it.
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul tells us that the last days will be characterized by “terrible times.” These times will be terrible because of the havoc brought about by the violent and wild rebellion of the ungodly – those who are set against God and His ways. Paul describes people with a string of eighteen traits. They are selfish, lovers of themselves, proud, socially destructive, abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, and their speech is slanderous. The list goes on. Many are even leading people astray with a form of godliness that is void of the gospel’s power and some of them prey on the vulnerable. No wonder we aren’t feeling special and loved.
Love – genuine love – is the exact opposite of all of these things. 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that love suffers long, bears annoyances and doesn’t lose its temper. Love is kind and takes the initiative to be considerate and helpful. It doesn’t envy but rejoices when others succeed. It doesn’t parade itself and is not puffed up but instead draws others to it. Love never behaves rudely or impolitely but acts in a manner worthy of Christ. Love doesn’t seek its own but always seeks to benefit others. Love is not provoked but will allow differences of opinion. Love thinks no evil but makes allowances for people’s flaws. And love does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in truth.
Real love, true love – for us and others – is bold. It does not abuse others or ourselves. Bold love destroys evil by empathy, by hospitality. It destroys evil by generously considering others and offering care for what is needed. It is that very power we have from God not to succumb to the provocation of evil that surprises and shames those who harm us or others. Their profound surprise that their evil has not been repaid with evil opens their hearts to redemption. Love offers a taste of the character of God. God is both strong and tender. Our love is to be equal parts strength and tenderness. Strength disarms false power; tenderness invites the heart to rest when it is defenseless. Strength reveals that God is holy and hates sin; tenderness reveals God’s grace and reconciliation. Are we strong enough to guard our tongues and speak truth in love? Are we tender enough to speak blessings even to those who have harmed us?
Genuine love seeks the best, offers the best, chooses the best. This includes the very words that come from our lips. What kind of environment do you wish to be in? Do you wish for your loved ones to be in? A toxic one, with the appearance of love that is never felt and in which real health can never flourish – or a loving one with genuine love that nourishes a deep love of others and thereby a genuine, healthy self esteem? Words are powerful. We can speak curses or blessings. Which will it be today?