A love of words can propel a person down multiple paths, from the supremely sanctified to the simply silly. Loving others with our words, on the other hand, should direct us and them toward goodness and grace.
My friend Jennifer always moves me when she prays. She loves both God and words, and her vocabulary is both enormous and exact. She selects words as an artist chooses colors. She’s not showy or ostentatious, either. But she thinks in precise, thoughtful, beautiful words and phrases. In the service of prayer, they glorify God. I love praying alongside her, because the specificity of her speech directs my own thoughts and the winsomeness of her words lifts my spirit. When I think of Jennifer’s prayers, I realize lovely language, like music, is a gift from God.
Conversely, my friend Dan knows I prize puns, often snubbed as “the lowest form of humor.” Many years ago, when we worked together, Dan often showed up at work carrying clippings of the old “Frank and Ernest” comic strip, which mined puns for laughs. Not long ago, he sent me an email that asked, “Did you hear about the archaeologist whose career was in ruins?” Dan claims the strength of a pun should be measured by the volume of the groan it evokes, and I agree. Still, similar to how I appreciate Jennifer’s prayers, clever puns remind me of God’s creativity, variety and sense of humor.
Reveling in resonance
The ancient Hebrews appreciated words, too. I’m not sure if they groaned at puns, but I’m certain they reveled in resonance. The beauty of Psalms, the clarity of Proverbs and the symbolism of the Song of Solomon illustrate their love for language.
They respected the power of words, too. They believed words possessed lives of their own, and a word spoken went out to accomplish its work, for good or ill. That’s why blessings and curses figure so prominently in the Old Testament. A spoken blessing would produce grace and abundance, and a curse would deliver damage—and the one who blessed or cursed could not take it back. So, for example, younger brother Jacob prospered, while older brother Esau suffered.
They understood an essential truth. We may not believe in words exactly as the Hebrews did, but we still do well to respect their power. If you doubt it, pay close attention to children who live in loving homes and children who endure derision and abuse. You’ll see blessing on the one hand and curse on the other. Words matter.
Blessing and cursing
So words have been on my mind in this season of Lent, as we embark upon a spiritual journey toward Easter. Some people give up chocolate, or booze or Facebook for lent. I’m struggling to give up words that curse. Not swear words, but words that hurt and damage.
In my own life this spring, I’ve discovered how much I need blessing—even when I’m talking to myself. And I’ve realized how toxic is cursing—even when I’m talking to myself.
The power of words amplifies when we speak to others. Doubt it? Take in the news and observe the status of our country. We’re enduring an uncivil war of words. It seems we no longer can disagree agreeably. And if we disagree, we’re required to be angry and show it. Our society needs an infusion of folks committed to speaking words of blessing and not of cursing.
A soft answer …
This is even more crucial for people who claim the name of Christ. When Christians are among the worst at speaking coarsely—vilifying and demeaning others—no wonder unbelievers and people of other faiths think badly of us, and also of our Savior.
Mrs. Key, my fourth-grade teacher and another Baptist woman who appreciated the power of words, drilled a vital lesson into the children who occupied her classroom exactly 50 years ago. We were kids, seemingly obliged to bicker at the slightest affront. Over and over again, she recited Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Our world needs kind, loving, blessing words.
What do you say?
Follow Marv on Twitter: @marvknoxbs