of football and fall

It’s  Fall.

Football season……

and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about a particular piece of football equipment.

the mouth guard.

Intellectually I knew that mouth guards affected speech and I always felt sorry for the guys on the football field trying to speak and to understand each other with those things in their mouths.  It is a familiar sight to see a quarterback take the mouth guard out, call the play, and then put the mouth guard back in before the snap.  Anyone who watches football has seen that happen.

But just how much a mouth guard affects your speech never really sunk in for me till this past week.

I have had to start wearing a mouth guard at night.

No, I am not involved in some bizarre night time sporting activity which requires safety gear.  But I have been clenching my jaw in my sleep for years and it is starting to have a cumulative effect on my teeth.  Initially the dentist was talking about fitting me with an expensive, custom molded mouth guard.  Yikes.  I don’t have bunches of money right now so the prospect of a custom fitted dental appliance was a bit daunting!  But then the hygienist told me a secret.

“couldn’t I just get a football mouth piece?” I joked.

“yup” she said.

Music to my ears!

So the next time I was in Wal-mart I planned to get a football mouth piece.  Just for fun I looked in the dental care section first and lo and behold they had a mouth guard of the “boil and bite” variety that was not built for sports, but instead was designed for folks who clench or grind their teeth.  Perfect!  Just what I needed.  For only $20. Yipeee!

Bought it.  Took it home.  Boiled it.  Bit down.  I now have a mouth guard molded for my teeth that I can use each night to keep me from clenching my teeth all night in my sleep, Hooray!  Okay, actually to be perfectly correct, the mouth guard does NOT keep me from clenching my teeth.  It just keeps my inevitable jaw clenching from doing any damage to my teeth.

Aside from keeping me from damaging my own teeth, the mouth guard has had a major side effect though – I have gained a more personal, visceral understanding of just how difficult it is to speak as you normally would with one of these things in your mouth.  I have a greater appreciation than ever of football players who can manage to make themselves understood on the field.

And I have also gained a new understanding of Psalm 141:3.

Last year I memorized this verse and I intellectually related it to a football mouth guard as a way of helping me remember the verse.

Set a guard over my mouth oh Lord,
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Psalm 141:3

But I hadn’t really understood just what I was asking God for.  I had previously thought of asking God to guard my mouth as essentially me asking God to  “stop me from speaking Lord.”   But I look at it very differently now.  Now that I have actually had a mouth guard in my own mouth I realize that really it is more that

the mouth guard fundamentally distorts your speech.

It’s not that you can’t talk.  You can.  Reasonably well actually.  But the mouth guard profoundly affects everything you say.  Your voice sounds a bit different, your pronunciations change, your ability to make any clipped sounds or sharp, crisp cut offs of consonants is gone, and glottal stops are just out the window.  Having a mouth guard in even, to a certain extent, affects your breathing mechanics.  And to a small extent it changes some facial expressions.

When I think now of asking God to “set a guard in my mouth” and realize that the guard He will place in me is the Holy Spirit, that whole last paragraph takes on spiritual meaning.

With the Holy Spirit in me, my voice should sound different.  My pronouncements will change.  My ability to be short with people and in my conversation should go away.  My every breath should be a prayer.  And if God is IN ME, He will affect even my facial expressions.

I Want God to Fundamentally Distort My Speech.

My personal paraphrase of Psalm 141:3 as a prayer now goes something like this –

“Set your Holy Spirit in my very mouth LORD, profoundly affect my every word, make it so that I cannot speak at all without betraying that YOU are in me.  Watch over me Lord.  Affect my breathing, and my expressions Jesus.   If I try to take out your guard so that I can speak in my old sinful selfish way, SEE me Lord and let your Holy Spirit kick me so that I do not take out my mouth guard. Ever.”

It is one of my most frequent prayers these days.  Well, other than “Lord, please do something ‘bout dem DAWGS”…………..


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