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Taking a Sarcasm Sabbath

Our family's love language is Snark. We speak some others fluently: Gifts, Quality Time, Service. But Snark gets a lot of air time.

One of the spiritual growth milestones my husband marks is when, in junior high, he was called out by a teacher for a snarky comment, and he realized he'd better watch his words more carefully. Jeff is very witty, but he realized in that moment that just because he could think of something very funny to say about someone, it doesn't mean he should. It's still a struggle, though, because he can think of such funny things to say. To this day, visitors to our home can know they are loved and appreciated by Jeff if they become the target of one of his piercing observations. (My friend Jodi can attest to this; she gets teased about her vegan diet, her taste in Broadway music and other things, and she eats it up.) And I sincerely love his good-natured ribbing; he makes me laugh every day.

Our eldest daughter is similarly gifted. She keeps me in stitches with her comebacks, and she and I can go back and forth rapid-fire "Gilmore Girls" style. On my Mother's Day card, she catalogued my attributes, among them "Coerced Physical Affection Specialist" (I hug her when she doesn't want to be hugged), "Extensive knowledge of colorful language" (I am ashamed), and "Makes up for lack of technological skill with enthusiasm." Confident in her love for me, I receive these affirmations as sincere.

However, wit though I am, I get tired of asking questions and almost never getting a straight answer from my husband and teenager. Sophia is fond of answering every question with "Your Mom." As in, "Who left the milk out?" "Your mom!" "What's that weird smell in here?" "Your mom!" She does it so often I made a "Your Mom" jar, like some people have a swear jar. But then I went and encouraged her, making her this sign for her room after I saw it on an Instagram feed of one of my favorite makers.

Our youngest daughter, however, is the least likely to enjoy all the banter. It often hurts her feelings. Which is totally legitimate. And since we've been alone in this little house together for weeks and weeks, it was bringing her down. We're all a little punchy (and by "we" I mean the whole freaking world) and it's easy to get a little loose in the turns with our words. We're also feeling edgy and anxious (and by "we" I mean the whole freaking world), so jokes that would normally be funny are not landing quite so lightly.

So last Saturday night, I declared a Sarcasm Sabbath. For twenty-four hours our family had to forgo sarcasm completely, answer all direct questions with direct answers, and replace any teasing nicknames with pet names (Sweetie, Babe) or someone's actual name. In place of the sarcasm and snark, we were to say more please's and thank you's and straight affirmations. Everyone agreed.

My friends, it was a rest for our souls. I was proud of my family, because we each caught ourselves several times that day mid-snark. I was refreshed by their kindnesses, and felt relaxed. We told our friend Jodi about it later in the week and she said, "Oh my gosh, that must have killed Jeff and Sophia." We told her honestly that Soph spent more time in her room than usual that day and everyone laughed. But in truth, Sophia also enjoyed the break, too.

The actual definition of sarcasm is "a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain." The root literally means a "flaying of the flesh." I don't believe my husband and daughter -- or me -- truly mean to give pain; we enjoy the word play and turn of phrase, and sometimes our snark is a way of saying, "I see your foibles and flaws, and I love you not despite but because of them." But as my husband realized in junior high, it's a slippery slope from silly snarkiness to contempt and criticism. We were all convicted by our Sarcasm Sabbath, and have cut back on this form of expression. We're making the total fast from irony a weekly thing.

I don't know about you, but my nervous system feels frayed. My soul feels sensitive. over-stimulated by news, loud opinions, and even name-calling. I removed Facebook from my phone to see less, but I'm still surrounded. What I'm craving is gentleness, humility, and kind words. I asked my friend Jen yesterday -- whose opinion I respect as much as anyone's close to me, and with whom I usually enjoy processing all things with -- if we could take a break from sharing opinions with each other on the news, the virus, the economy, and just talk about our families, our feelings, and what we are hearing from God. She said sure.

How about you? What words do you need to surround yourself with right now, and what words should you be speaking, writing, posting, even thinking?

In a world full of fear, stress and sorrow, let's find soothing words for our loved ones, and ways to rest our souls. This weekend, consider taking your own kind of Sabbath: A News Sabbath, a Social Media Sabbath, a Sarcasm Sabbath, a Political Discussion Sabbath, a Suggestions Sabbath, a Criticism Sabbath. In the space and time made free by these fasts, add something good: read Scripture, watch an uplifting movie, listen to your favorite music, take a walk, write an affirming letter to a friend, say kind things to your spouse. May we all learn better how to speak love.

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