I was a fairly naive girl. I was content with reading books and pretending, dressing up and playing with dolls for quite a while. But there were times when that was not as ideal as it sounds, like when I was the only kid in my class who didn’t know a popular reference or the only girl in fifth grade not to see the Titanic (which I thought sounded pretty depressing, considering I already knew how it ended.) In eighth grade, another such incident occurred when I was convinced I knew what the f-word was, but was quickly shown otherwise. Since “fart” has four letters and was the only remotely vulgar word starting with “f” that I knew, I had assumed it must be the f-word. But when a friend teased me into telling her what I thought the f-word was, and then refused to tell me what the real one was, I only had one option left. Go ask my mom. I remember she told me what it was and what it meant. I remember thinking, “That’s it? That’s what all the fuss is about? How silly. There are plenty of other words to use. Why would people want to use that?”
Quite a few years later, I find myself not feeling too differently from that thirteen year old girl. I’m convinced that words are powerful. They are a lens into our very hearts. Jesus even says so, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) This isn’t to say that I think swearing makes you evil. There are few times (but there are times) when I think swearing feels appropriate. But what I do think this means is that the language we choose and the stories we tell are a reflection of what our hearts truly believe.
My husband and I recently had a conversation about language and when we think it is appropriate to use curse words. The conclusion we came to is that words are words, even bad ones. They are part of language and are a tool to be used with wisdom. But I think that it goes beyond a list of rules of when or where to use such words. I think it goes back to our hearts and the stories we are telling ourselves. If we want to live in a way that reflects redemption’s story, I think our words will reflect that, including what we call cussin’.
I just finished reading the story of Joseph, as I concluded the book of Genesis while I work my way through the Bible before my birthday. I was struck by the words Joseph uses and the story he chooses to tell when he finally encounters his brothers again. He could have said anything. He could have accused them of their treachery and made them pay for selling their own brother into slavery. He could have told them how evil they were and how awful they had made his life. He could have sworn at them and told them how he hated them.
But he didn’t do any of that. There are multiple times when Joseph says some version of “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for God, to bring about that many people should be kept alive as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20) There are even parts in the chapters preceding it, when they are first reunited, when Joseph is offering comfort to his brothers, asking them to see things from his perspective that this was used by God.
I love this glimpse into Joseph’s heart. We don’t see a lot of the specifics of what was going on in Joseph’s head and heart when he was living in Egypt for years on end: serving in Potiphar’s house, in prison, and eventually running Egypt as Pharaoh’s second-in-command. But what we do see are his words when he sees his brothers. If he had been harboring bitterness, resentment or anger towards his brothers for those years, there is no doubt that it would have spilled out when they finally saw each other again. But it seems clear that Joseph hadn’t believed that was his story. He didn’t see himself as the victim. He saw himself as chosen by God to be part of redemption’s story. He got to help save many people from starvation. That was the story he told, even to those who had wronged him.
I just finished reading the Martian. I won’t put any spoilers in for those of you who want to read the book or see the movie. My husband and I went to the movie for a date night (thanks to birthday movie tickets from my dear brother & sister) and had a great time snuggling in the packed theater. I usually like to read the book first before seeing the movie, but it just turned out that it happened the other way around this time. The reason I like to read the book first is because I want the better version of the story to be the one I’m first exposed to. Usually, the book is better and I want that to feel like the “real” story. I still typically enjoy the movie adaptations of books I’ve read, but my heart always seems to enjoy the “real” story the best. Going into the Martian, I thought the same might be true. But I have been surprised to realize that I actually like the movie better.
To start, the story is engaging and compelling. I’ve heard it said that it is like Cast Away meets Apollo 13, and it kind of is. A funny, resourceful man finds himself alone on Mars and is waiting to be rescued. It’s a great premise. Here’s the thing, in the movie version, I’m totally rooting for Matt Damon as Mark Watney. He’s a man of character. He’s brave and got a good sense of humor. The words he chooses about his circumstances show that he is telling a story of hope, a story of life and one that chooses to believe the best about others. He swears occasionally, but for moments that feel potentially worthy of a choice word (like stapling your own wounds after being left for dead by your crew on Mars) or at minimum, somewhat understandable.
But I was surprised to find that I didn’t like the book version of Mark Watney the same way. His surrounding story is the relatively the same, although the movie does change a few parts, and is still engaging and compelling. But the man himself isn’t quite the man of character as the one I met on screen. As I tried to figure out why I liked one version of Mark better than the other, I think I found that the words he chooses change a lot for me. There is a great deal more swearing in the book than the movie. (As in a lot of swearing.) Mark Watney of the book feels more crass than who I encountered in the theater. Some of the same jokes that deliver in the movie don’t feel as funny to me in the book, since Mark just finished swearing to explain what he was working on. As I read, I felt thirteen again wondering, “Why is he saying this? There are plenty of other words to use. How silly.” I actually think the language took away from the story because it changed the story itself. Mark Watney became a different kind of character because of the story he was telling through his words. (He isn’t the only character to use language, by the way. Others do it too, who were cleaned up for the movie.)
I still like the Martian, but the book changed the story for me. The characters felt changed with more cursing and less wisdom reflected in their speech. They weren’t the same people with deep character that I was rooting for. Instead of that man of courage who told a story of hope and life, I felt like the book was about a man who told a story of chance and recklessness. It felt more like a story about survival than courage. And although both stories had elements of the other, the story about courage was a better one.
I think we get to decide what story we are telling. And although it isn’t as easy as that sounds, it is all at the same time. We get to decide whether or not we tell a story of redemption and hope and purpose with our lives. We get to decide whether or not we tell a story of chance and pleasure and randomness. And although there are dramatic circumstances that happen to us, it isn’t those that determine what our story is. Joseph could have had those same “terrible” things happen to him and not helped anyone. He could have been just another slave who only served because he was forced to and no longer trusted the God he grew up hearing about. But that isn’t the story he had. He had a different story because of the choice he had to have made every day, waking up a slave, and choosing to believe that he was part of something bigger and better than himself. He chose to be a blessing instead of a curse to those around him. He chose not to let his circumstances be an excuse for selfishness. He chose to believe that God could use what happened to him for his purposes. He chose to believe he was part of the story that God was telling.
We get to choose too. We get to choose today. We get to decide if we are living as part of redemption’s story. And when we do, our hearts start to shift and I’m convinced what comes out of our mouth does too.
*Blogging for Books provided me with a complimentary copy of The Martian in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255
Thank you to everyone who posted, subscribed or commented in the last week, for the giveaway. I wish I had a book to give to each and everyone of you. I’m so grateful for your support and that you’re reading what I write. It is an honor and a privilege that I hope I never get over. But thanks to the help of my lovely assistant (my sweet Mommy who is here for a visit) the name that was drawn this time around was Sierra! Congratulations, Sierra!