The other night I was watching TV with my husband, Mike, and a commercial for a tooth-whitening product came on. Now, I confess, I miss the point of a lot of commercials. Often I require Mike to translate because my brain doesn’t work well with 30-second storylines. In this commercial, a stunning woman did the “tissue test”: holding up a white tissue see if her teeth are as white as they could be. Poor super-model-looking girl, her teeth were less than pure white. I was feeling pretty confident because 1) I got the premise of the commercial (go me!) and 2) I could totally pass the tissue test. If the tissue were off-white. Or maybe eggshell. Or depending on how much coffee I’ve guzzled, maybe tan.
I’m all about white teeth. Back when I had free time (translation: before children), I would hang out and watch a girly movie and paint my toes while drooling with those form-to-your-teeth whitening trays in my mouth. If you’ve ever done them you know it’s impossible not to drool. But it was worth it. Teeth are important. Everyone sees them. If I had known about the tissue test back then, I would have passed for sure!
Noah, my older son, has been in speech therapy since he was less than a year old. It’s hard to believe that he’s sat in front of a speech therapist for an hour a week for over seven years. That equals hundreds of hours focused on how to move his tongue and manipulate it around his teeth to form sounds the right way. Turns out not only are teeth important because everyone sees them, they’re important because they’re integral to how we shape our words. They’re integral to successfully expressing the thoughts in our heart and our head.
Noah has a tendency to be negative. His idea of making conversation is complaining. We’ve spent hours teaching him to put his tongue between his teeth when making a “th” sound, but how much time have we committed to helping him thoughtfully choose the words that come out of his mouth? Most of our correction comes out of frustration. But then, who’s example is he following?
I confess that as a woman with a type-A personality and a tendency to seek control in everything around me, I can be tough to please and sputter the negative over the positive. That’s my natural instinct. Like mother, like son. I’ve spent hours standing in the dental aisle at Target, deliberating on which toothbrush to buy, which mouthwash, and which whitening treatment I should try that may or may not make me drool. I’ve put all this effort into my pearly off-whites and yet my words can be as yellow as ever.
I love The Message translation of this verse in James, chapter 3: A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it (4)! Simply put, those words that we use our tongue and our teeth to create can either build up or they can tear down. Noah’s natural inclination is to tear down with his words, but you know what, I’m prone to do the same. Are you? My solution has been to hang a chalkboard in my bathroom. The reminder is simple: Build Up with Words. I can brush, rinse and whiten to my heart’s content. It doesn’t matter whether I pass the tissue test. And it doesn’t matter whether you do.
The question is ultimately this: once those words move beyond their pearly gate, are you going to want to take them back?
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