I remember the first time I swore. I was repeating a joke to some of my friends, and they all thought it was funny. It wasn’t like I was actually swearing, I thought. “I didn’t think you cussed,” one of my friends laughed. And I didn’t. At least not before then and, after that, not a lot. Not at first anyway.
Less than a year later, I was up there with the best of them—trading cutting remarks, swearing for effect, because people thought it was funny and acceptable, and hating myself more each time I did it. I knew it was wrong, but by that time it was a part of my speech pattern. My language got worse, and along with it went my character. I was in trouble at school and, although I still attended church most of the time, I stopped taking the sacrament.
I remember, too, the first time I tried to quit. A boy I liked at school told me he thought swear words were unladylike. So I promised myself I’d stop. And I did, for a while. Quitting was hard, especially since I had decided to quit for the wrong reasons. My resolve lasted about as long as a high school crush, and then I was back to my old ways.
Along with my unclean language came other bad habits and bad crowds. And when I finally decided to clean up my language, I was engulfed in other sins I needed to clear up. But this time I had decided to quit for the right reasons. Because I wanted to repent. I wanted to be clean in God’s sight, and not just to act ladylike.
Elder L. Tom Perry says if we reconstruct our sentences after we swear, minus the offending word, gradually our thought patterns and speech patterns will change (see New Era, Aug. 1986, 7). Substituting similar words that aren’t really swear words is nearly as bad because everyone knows what we meant to say. We need to replace the bad words or thoughts with something wholesome for this formula to work.
This was no short process. And it was hard—hard to regain control of my life and rebuild my testimony. Speech might seem like a small thing when there are so many other worse things we could be doing. My first offense seemed so innocent at the time. I realize now that the world tries to make sins—regardless of their size—look insignificant, but any sin offends the Spirit. And when the Spirit wasn’t with me, I wasn’t under God’s influence and I grew farther from Him.
Putting my decision into action brought the Spirit back into my life. I could again feel the Lord’s guiding influence, and He helped me with all the other problems in my life when I was sincerely trying.