The power of words

I receive hand scratched notes on a regular basis from my youngest child.  They are often apologies written in marker and hand-delivered in tears.  Each one is some variation of this, "Dear Mom, I am sorry I made you mad.  Will you forgive me?  Yes or No?  (Circle one.)  Love, Eliza"

I always feel a flash of sadness as I remember some small thing I may have reminded her to do or scolded her for.  It is a rare occasion that I am actually upset with her, but her sensitivity to my tone of voice and her desire for my approval prompts these little messages written by a broken heart.  She has opened my eyes to the tenderness that exists inside of her, and the care I need to use when disciplining her.

I think a lot about the words I speak.  I frequently leave conversations wishing I had kept my mouth shut, and regret the potential error of my words for days.  Seriously, days!  I analyze the back and forth of the exchange, and wonder how my words were received.  Have I offended?  Did I give bad advice?  Were my questions too personal?  Did I sound like an idiot?  It is a high form of mental torture.

I can't well imagine that I will ever step into the shoes of an orator, (I would be awkward at best), but I do hope to develop as a writer and encourager of those who are working towards a deeper faith in Christ.  I am aware of my own longings to grow spiritually as I wrestle with questions of faith.  I cannot imagine my life without the saving grace of Christ, and I want others to experience the joy and freedom and love that I know is possible.

I do not take this lightly.  I feel the responsibility of using my words carefully.  Spoken or written, they can build walls or tear them down.  Words can lift people up or lower them deeper.  They can draw them close or push them away.

I once had to write a letter that I knew was going to cause the recipient pain, and the thought of sending it was laced in dread.  It spoke of difficult observations that needed to be communicated if our friendship was going to continue in truth and authenticity.  The first version of that letter was raw with the ache of painful experiences.  I spit angry words on page, and followed them with exclamation points.  But over the span of several weeks I revised and rewrote that letter.  As the hurt and anger subsided, I began to consider my motives more carefully.  If the goal was to share my heart and desire for restoration, then I needed to change both my tone and the words.  Before I finally sent it I asked myself three questions:

1.  Is it true?  There is a difference between subjective truth (my viewpoint, my feelings) and objective truth (truth for all people.)

2.  Is it meant to help or to hurt?  They say the truth hurts sometimes, and I can only agree.  But we need people in our lives who know us and love us to reveal truths that we may not be willing or capable of seeing on our own.

3.  Is it loving?  While something may be objectively true, if it is not shared to someone in love they will not benefit from it.

I sit at a desk and punch black and white keys into my computer.  By some miracle a story usually ends up on the screen.  Before I hit publish I think about what I am communicating.  What are my motives in sharing a particular story?  Are they self-serving?  Is what I'm writing true?  Is it loving?  Is it meant to help or to hurt?  Do my words honor Christ?

Sometimes stories get a makeover or completely disappear through an edit.

I think that's what I love so much about writing, texting, and emailing.  It plays to my strengths by affording me the opportunity to think through what I want to say and how I want to say it.  I'm working to replicate that process in verbal conversations, and the practice on page is helpful.

We all own the power of words.  How will we wield them?  Will we help or will we hurt?


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