We’ve heard a lot of words in the last few weeks. Lots and lots. Words during presidential campaigns and debates. Words after the election. News media outlets have used words to describe and discredit political platforms. One hundred different uses of words to describe the benefits and evils of mask wearing. Words have flowed in the form of opinions, informed or otherwise, on social media. Talk about the vaccine, violence. Lots of opinion, truth, hearsay, and reactions to all of the above.
I’m weary of words. Are you?
The Gift of Words
I’m so grateful God has called me to be a word juggler. I love to craft words into thoughts and ideas in ways that influence and encourage other people. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” says a well known saying, and frankly, I’ll go for the thousand words any time. But as I play with words, forming and reforming them into anything from practical how-to’s to lyrical, whimsical bits of prose, I’m profoundly aware of their power. Power to do great good, to bring healing, and to give reassurance and encouragement. They can inspire, challenge, and motivate others to do great things and live great lives.
I’m also aware that I can use that power so very badly. I can invoke great harm through this gift I’ve been given.
That becomes all too apparent during a marital spat. I’ve often quipped that a couple made up of a preacher and a writer can be a lethal combination. My husband, a.k.a. Preacher Creature, argues in three-point outlines and my storytelling prowess is sanded to a razor-thin edge when I want to recount tales of the past. I can so magnificently craft comebacks to cause hurt, shame, or false guilt.
I’ve also said that a pastor’s wife has tremendous power to make or break her husband’s ministry – just in her use of words. We can give false impressions, infuse with lingering doubt, or put in a pinprick of negativity, all the while saying with a straight face that we’ve spoken truth and “I’m just concerned” or “Something to pray about.”
Words are sneaky.
Words can be full of quadruple meaning that can slither and slide into what we want them to say or what we want to change them to say. The better, more gifted you are with words, the more adept you can become at word damage.
Words can mean different things to different people. I can innocently use a word to mean one thing, but someone could come along and interpret what I said in a totally different way. This becomes a serious issue if I say what I say, knowing that it could be interpreted a certain way, do it anyway, and then say, “But I didn’t mean that.” It’s equally dangerous if I blurt out words without stopping to think about how they sound to my hearer or if I suspect there might be a problem and I say them anyway with an “Oh well, it’s their problem” attitude. That’s downright poor judgement on my part.
With a gift comes responsibility.
Organizing and choosing what I say responsibly means I will:
- Speak truth with no twist
- Avoid ulterior motives
- Refuse to use words that maliciously manipulate the hearer
- Consider the person who is hearing my words – how will they interpret what I say? (If you aren’t singing out of the same dictionary, your conversation will be as dissonant as a 1970’s synthesizer.)
The Bible has good advice about the words we use:
“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the Church.”Ephesians 4:15
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.”Psalm 34:13
“A person finds joy in giving an apt reply and how good is a timely word.” (Proverbs 15:23)Proverbs 15:23
“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” (Proverbs 12:25)Proverbs 12:25
“A man who lacks judgement derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.”Proverbs 11:12
How can you use words for good?
God created language, and words, like much of God’s creation, can be used for good or for evil intent. While many people want to throw out things that God has created when they see them used for evil, I haven’t seen anyone refusing to speak yet! But perhaps we do need to be more intentional and committed to the use of words for good rather than evil, the way God intended.
I think this political season has taught all of us the destructive potential of our speech. We’re tired of the hurtful, hateful, emotion-driven, accusing, and downright deceptive ways word abusers have attempted to influence our point of view.
We’ve learned, sadly, that we cannot trust everything people of influence say – whether it’s a news media source, a politician, or even our next-door neighbor or church acquaintance. And we’ve had to learn the hard way how to respond in a Christlike manner to inflammatory words that emotionally spill out from people who are under an extra load of stress—just like we are.
How do you stop the drivel?
Let’s recommit, you and I, to using the gift of words as God as intended.
- Use words to build up, not tear down.
- Manage words to express respect, honor, and kindness.
- Bite back the accusations, recriminations, manipulative sentences, and repeated gossip.
- Commit to not sharing information until you’ve had a chance to check sources
- Have the humility to respond with, “There is much I don’t know so maybe it’s best that I don’t voice my opinion.”
- Speak truth in a straight line instead of twisted, multi-layered levels, taking into consideration what would be in the best interest of the person who hears your words.
The apostle Paul said it more succinctly than I could:
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”Colossians 4:6
Here’s praying that you and I will both grow in speaking words laced with God’s grace.
Read more about our use of words in my blog post, Keeping Quiet: 6 Strategies to Control What You Say.