Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lessons on Sarcasm

When I thought of sarcasm, I assumed that it has a less than charming definition. I knew that sarcasm in its purest form is bad, and I have even heard that it is the devil’s tool in the lives of many believers. I have worked in environments where it has run rampant and seen some of its destructive power. It creates friction, confusion, and inflicts hurt while masking its communicator with a somewhat innocent veneer. It can be subtle or more obvious, but I am truly beginning to believe that it is exceedingly dangerous coming out of the mouth of those who love the Lord. Can the same tongue praise the Lord and tear down others at the same time? Can the mouth express reverence and devotion to God and spout hatred and bitterness toward our fellow man? I have seen the destruction of sarcasm. I have seen the power and healing benefits of direct communication. I have been incredibly guilty of using sarcasm to “hide” true feelings. What I did not realize, however, that sarcasm is a very transparent façade.
The Lord laid it on my heart for the Lenten season to give up sarcasm. I have failed quite a bit. The first several days were the hardest. Sometimes sarcastic comments would pop out of my mouth before I could catch them. Other times, I caught them as they were on the tip of my tongue. I am praying that I get to the point that I don’t even think them. It may take time and plenty of grace, however. I have hope that the day will come that I am a direct communicator who presents the truth in love. If love is absent, then opinion is best kept to ourselves. We can pray for love and discernment of speech to join the attitude of charity and mercy.
I decided to look up sarcasm tonight to see exactly what its definition is. It is worse than I thought. Sarcasm, according to Webster’s is: “from Greek sarkasmos, from sarkazein to tear flesh, bite the lips in rage, sneer, from sark-, sarx flesh; probably akin to Avestan thwarəs- to cut.” I got the cutting part right. I am appalled at the idea of the tearing of the flesh. It is like taking a bite out of someone’s flesh. That is brutal. It is to bite the lips in rage. That is an expression that is dripping with contempt. It is a comment that is a form of wit, used to inflict pain. It is the use of bitter, caustic, and ironic language directed against someone. I always thought of it as lazy wit, but it is far worse than simple indolence. It is vile, evil, and malevolent. The synonyms for sarcasm involve words such as: acerbic, divisive, disrespectful, scornful, and trenchant. None of these sound even remotely positive. I am disgusted that I have been using this form of speech for so long. Proverbs 23: 26 addresses sarcasm, giving it the name “guile,” which means treacherous cunning or skillful deceit. It says, “though the quarrelsome man covers his hatred with guile, his wickedness shall be shown openly before the assembly.” True feeling will be exposed. We cannot hide behind sarcasm forever. We will be found out. “I am just kidding” won’t suffice anymore. Eventually, enough just kiddings will translate into “not kidding anymore.”
Going a little broader, as I study the tongue, I see once again in Proverbs that “death and life are in the tongue.” We speak death or we speak life over ourselves and others. I want to speak life. In James 3, we read that the tongue is a fire, and fire can burn and destroy, or fire can refine. This fire can be ignited by the powers of hell, or it can be set aflame by the words of heaven. In Acts, the apostles were visited by tongues of fire. Is it any coincidence that the tongue was the vehicle of the Spirit’s fire? I don’t think so. Can we at the same time praise the Lord and curse our brother through bitter sarcasm? James asserts that it is impossible when he says that a fountain can not simultaneously send forth bitter and fresh water. The bitter water of sarcasm cannot flow from our mouth with the fresh water of praise and encouragement. Do we use sarcasm to encourage? Absolutely not. Sarcasm often arises out of personal insecurities. If we tell the truth, will we be accepted or cast out? It arises also out of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness.
I can’t believe that I waited so long to confront the issue of sarcasm in my life. Now, I think and pray before I speak. I still make tons of mistakes and put my foot in my mouth quite often. But I am much more aware and have been tremendously humbled in my puerile verbal condition. I found myself today wanting to hide behind sarcasm when I needed to call a co-worker out on his inappropriate comments. Instead, I discarded the sarcasm and spoke the truth. I am still working on the love part, but when he said, “I thought you gave up sarcasm,” I responded with, “I did.” He was taken aback when he realized I was serious. But I expressed my true feelings and evoked a change in communication that will forever change my relationships. Hopefully, it will continue to come out of a transformed heart. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. I pray that my heart is never filled with bitterness, cynicism, and biting hatred. But I want my speech to be overflowing with love, compassion and mercy.
My sarcasm fast will go far beyond the period of Lent into my practice into every day communication for the rest of my life. I am so thankful for this life-changing Lent season.

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