Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, April 26, 2018

cram_halfIt was the summer of 2006 in Kansas City, Mo., and the Rev. Will Bowen was preparing to deliver a Sunday sermon that would turn his congregation on end.

When Sunday rolled around, Pastor Bowen climbed into the pulpit and began to describe the downward spiral caused by negative speech. He estimated that the average person complains 20 times a day. Multiply that across an entire workforce or family, and the effects are staggering.

Rev. Bowen admitted that he, too, was guilty of complaining. "You name it, I complained about it ... weather, health, church, friends," he said.

So he issued a challenge: swear off all negative speech for 21 days. No complaining, no criticizing, no gossip, no sarcasm. None.

Pastor Bowen assured them that he was taking the challenge as well.

The minister instructed the ushers to hand out brightly colored rubber bracelets, similar to Lance Armstrong’s yellow "Livestrong" bracelets that were popular a few years ago. He explained that parishioners should place the bracelet on the wrist; each time they complained or criticized, they should switch the bracelet to the opposite wrist and begin counting again. The goal was to make 21 consecutive days with the bracelet in place.

"Join me," he told his congregation. "If it takes three months or three years, your life will be greatly improved. Your relationships will be greatly improved. If you wear your bracelet out, we’ll give you another one. Stay with it."

Before the pastor had finished his sermon, he had to switch his own bracelet after complaining about the Kansas City Royals.

Word of the challenge spread quickly. A few weeks later, a reporter asked Rev. Bowen how he was faring. "Me? Well, after two weeks of really trying, I’ve almost made six hours," he replied honestly.


Slowly, however, he began to make progress, and it led to an interesting observation. "I found that I could do very well around some people but not so well around others. Sadly, I realized that my relationships with some people were centered on expressing our dissatisfaction about whatever we were talking about. I began to avoid them. I felt guilty at first, but I noticed that my bracelet stayed put. More important, I found myself beginning to feel happier."

Rev. Bowen says that the average person who really gives it his best completes the challenge in about five months.

One woman who completed the challenge remarked, "My life is a whole lot better than it was six months ago." This woman was a teacher, and she invited her grade school pupils to take the no-complaints pledge with her.

"It was really hard for me," said a boy in her classroom, "because I’ve got two sisters, one 12 and one 13, and they are both," he paused and sighed, "really mean!"

As for me, it’s been six weeks since I began the challenge to eliminate negative talk. So far, I’ve made it nearly two days. To my surprise, I am most likely to fail while driving. This is true even when I’m alone in the car because I criticize other drivers. And yes, this counts as negative speech. The fact that no one can hear me does not change the fact that it has a negative effect on me.

So here is the challenge: go 21 consecutive days without complaints, criticism, sarcasm and gossip. If you have a rubber bracelet, use it. If not, use a wristwatch, rubber band or piece of jewelry. Do it with a friend, or as an office project, or as a family.

Then, watch God transform not only your lips, but your heart as well.

"Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying . . . that it may impart grace to those who hear." (Eph. 4:29)

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.