Taming our Tongues this Lent

30 Days to Taming your Tongue, by Deborah Smith Pegues.

Authentic Books, Secunderabad.

Indian edition reprint, 2015.

ISBN 978-817362-731-6. 141 pp, Price not indicated.


A book I chanced upon months ago is going to be part of my spiritual reading this Lent. It dwells on a very important aspect of fasting, or what the author calls a “tongue fast”. Deborah Smith Pegues’30 Days to Taming your Tongue is thus most appropriate for the remaining thirty-odd days of Lent.

You are bound to be tongue-tied when you run through the contents page: thirty chapters featuring thirty types of tongue you wouldn’t think existed. Here they go:

  • the lying tongue
  • the flattering tongue
  • the manipulating tongue
  • the hasty tongue
  • the divisive tongue
  • the argumentative tongue
  • the boasting tongue
  • the self-deprecating tongue
  • the slandering tongue
  • the gossiping tongue
  • the meddling tongue
  • the betraying tongue
  • the belittling tongue
  • the cynical tongue
  • the know-it-all tongue
  • the harsh tongue
  • the tactless tongue
  • the intimidating tongue
  • the rude tongue
  • the judgmental tongue
  • the self-absorbed tongue
  • the cursing tongue
  • the complaining tongue
  • the retaliating tongue
  • the accusing tongue
  • the discouraging tongue
  • the doubting tongue
  • the loquacious tongue
  • the indiscreet tongue
  • the silent tongue

Did you ever imagine a tongue could be so versatile? The list reads like progeny of one and the same tongue: notice they have the same “surname”!

Besides the theme, another feature that makes this book suitable for the season is that it is Scripture-based. In the prologue, the author quotes James 3:8: “No man can tame the tongue.” She states our hope is in “the Spirit of God”, to whom we must entrust the unruly member to be subjected on a daily basis.

How do we begin the process? The first step is to admit that we could be guilty of many of the negative uses of the tongue listed above; the truth will make us free. A Biblical quote at the head of each chapter is very reassuring. Then there are short stories, anecdotes, soul-searching questions and Scripture-based personal testimonies that combine to make each chapter a tongue- and life-changing experience. A positive affirmation or resolution at the end of each chapter rounds it off beautifully.

I am hopeful that a thirty-day crash course, or fast course, if you like, will give us a wholesome tongue, such that we will speak what is pleasing to God. The author, who is an experienced certified public accountant, Bible teacher, speaker, certified behavioural consultant specialising in understanding personality temperaments, writer and housewife of over twenty-five years’ standing, assures us that we will not be turned into “a Passive Patsy or a Timid Tom who avoids expressing personal boundaries, desires, or displeasure with a situation.” She recognises that most interpersonal problems will not be resolved without being confronted; however, there is a time and a way to say everything.

It may well take one less than a month to reading this valuable book; but I would love to go slow, meditating on each chapter. In the epilogue, the author recommends homing in “on areas where your mouth is particularly challenged.” One may have to spend several days or weeks on a lying tongue, for instance, and on a cursing tongue none at all.

To assess our daily progress there is a “tongue evaluation checklist” in Appendix A. Considering it more effective to focus on implementing positive behaviour than trying to avoid the negative, Appendix B offers over thirty “alternative uses of the tongue” that will bring glory to God and improve our interactions and relationships. Appendix C has passages comprising an “arsenal of tongue scriptures” that will fortify us and revolutionise our conversation.

The author very wisely remarks, “Teachers often teach that which they need to learn themselves.” And I say with the author, “I am no different.” Like her who wrote the book primarily for herself, I write this not as a review but primarily as a notice concerning a book that could help us to transform our tongues into a “wellspring of life.”

Lent: how and why

Why is the 40-day period leading to the commemoration of Jesus’s Passion, Death and Resurrection called ‘Lent’? ‘Lent’ was originally a secular word (from lencten, the Old English word for ‘lengthen’) referring to the lengthening of days in the season of spring. Over the centuries ‘Lent’ became synonymous with the liturgical period as this always fell during the springtime in Europe. Besides, it was an easier word than the official Latin Quadragesima, literally, 40th day before Easter.

That today the period from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday (afternoon) actually comprises 44 days is another thing. This mismatch is a result of the post-Vatican II reorganization of the liturgical year and calendar: considering that the rite of ashes had become very popular, even more than many other days of greater solemnity, it was decided to have Lent prefixed by the days from Ash Wednesday to Saturday. Minus those days, the number is 40.

Historically, Quadragesima is the bare minimum period of Lent. In earlier times there was a remote preparation comprising three weeks: the Septuagesima, the Sexagesima, and the Quinquagesima that acted as a bridge between joyful Christmas and sobering Lent. The ashes have now become a reminder that the first Sunday of Lent – the Quadragesima – is round the corner, to begin the commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness.

That is how fasting has become inseparable from the penitential period. Earlier, fasting was throughout Lent except Sundays, in keeping with the primacy of this day as a joyful feast honouring the Resurrection of Christ. With the reorganization of Lent in 1969 it ceased to be a season of fasting. Presently, only two days – Ash Wednesday and Good Friday – are prescribed as days of fasting. For their part, Lenten Sundays play the role of shaping the week’s liturgical focus and provide the base of all the liturgy building up to Holy Week.

How long or short a period of Lent we have is finally a matter of individual choice; we know best why we abstain or refrain from certain foods; and how beneficial the season is going to be is finally left to me and my God to work out. However, if we are attuned to the liturgical seasons, we will already feel a pull towards Lent much before it actually begins; if fasting is not a matter of mere protocol we will happily go the extra mile. With the freedom we have received, we are, so to say, masters of our destiny.

Knowing the meaning and necessity of the Lenten season can help us guide our own destiny. St John Paul II summarized it well when he said: “Here then is revealed which, by its call to conversion, leads us through prayer, penance and acts of fraternal solidarity to renew or reinvigorate our friendship with Jesus in faith, to free ourselves from the deceptive promises of earthly happiness and once again to savour the harmony of the interior life in authentic love for Christ.”

That’s how and why Lent is considered a spiritual spring: we are renewed in fervour and become a vessel unto honour.