I love talking. According to my mother, I started making babbling noises at three weeks old and haven’t really stopped since. I love words and I love to use them — particularly in writing, tweeting, or delivering a well-timed rejoinder or witty remark.
But it’s shockingly easy to go from a pithy pun to a snarky statement — and I’ll admit that I end up cutting people down far too often.
I used to not care about this so much. Growing up in the church — particularly as the daughter of two pastors — the constant earnestness and cheesy Christian culture was so ripe for commentary. As a 9-year-old, I refused to attend “Superchurch,” our program for children because I thought it was too lame and when it came to stuff like Psalty and Charity Church Mouse, I just can’t even finish this sentence without writing something sarcastic.
Over time, one of the biggest obstacles toward embracing Christ was that I just didn’t want to be a Christian. I couldn’t see the appeal for a variety of reasons, but in particular, it seemed to involve a lot of smiling, emotional vulnerability, and being sweet — all of which made me uncomfortable. The irony here is that I’m actually a very smiley, emotionally vulnerable, and maybe not sweet, but warm person, so yes, Dr. Freud, snark is a defense mechanism.
When I finally came to the end of myself (or so I thought — cue knowing laughter), took up what I thought was just a little cross, and started following Jesus, I was in my mid-20s and my sarcastic tendencies had already begun to solidify. This is a problem when it comes to spiritual growth because the gospel is one of the most beautiful, raw, powerful, and wonderful realities in the world — if not the most. You’d better be prepared to let the gospel change you, because then you’re just clapping off beat to weird music on Sundays for no reason.
For years I held out for as long as I could, clinging to my snarkastic tendencies, even while God changed me in many other ways. But when confronted with say, James 3, you need to reconsider your priorities.
We live in a culture in which snarkiness and witty remarks are not only the norm, but also in which skill in those areas is prized. And we live on social media now, carefully editing our personas to show just enough but not all and punctuating heartfelt sentiment with biting humor, lest we seem too soft. This tendency extends even to debates among our own sisters and brothers, where disagreement over theological points can turn snide and nasty pretty quickly. It’s easy to forget that Jesus has the words of life — not cutting, snide, or snarky words.
Like George Costanza in Seinfeld, I decided this past year to start doing the opposite of whatever I’d instinctively do. That included a bunch of Bible studies with covers that veered perilously close to the pink and flowery, spending my time alone, writing instead of going out with friends, and pursuing silence instead of my usual snarky narrations.
I went on my first silent retreat this past month, part of a two-year residency in contemplative Christian practices. It was amazing how, when prohibited from providing a quip, my inner monologue was not snarky at all. I was actually disappointed when we had to start speaking again.
As I’ve been doing the readings for our program, I’m increasingly aware of how genuine all of the authors are — and how uncomfortable that makes me. But the deeper we dive into God, the more impossible it is for us to hold anything back or to cling to anything that isn’t God. The more that we experience God’s unfailing love, the harder (and more foolish) it is to put up any kind of defense against it or to not share it with others. And that means being willing to communicate in earnest, to let God tame our tongues—and every part of our desperately wicked hearts.
I have by no means tamed my tongue (as you can probably tell from reading this). I still fall too easily into the trap of delivering the perfect comeback over loving my neighbor with my words (James 3:9 anyone?). Still, my expectant prayer this Advent season is that one day, while Christ is making “all things new,”(Revelation 21:5) God will also redeem my sarcastic nature. Even so come, Lord Jesus (like seriously).