Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Power of Words

I've been reading James 3 for weeks in preparation for this Sunday's lesson with the junior highers. James offers an exhortation about taming our tongues, using some very strong language about how dangerous and volatile our speech can become when left unchecked.

There is power in our words. Simple phrases that take mere seconds to utter can dramatically alter a person's entire life. When shared from the heart, I love you, You are valuable, No one likes you, or You're worthless have the power to define us. When I first started dating Katie back in college, one of the first things I told her was that I would never tell her that I loved her until the next words out of my mouth were, "will you marry me?" I had seen those three words used so flippantly that they eventually lost their meaning in many couples' relationship. I wanted those words to retain their power in our relationship. I didn't want Katie to have to ever wonder if I really meant it.

I also remember an incident back in my own middle school years that changed my entire outlook on my words. I had been spending a lot of time with a kid named Bob who cussed a lot. Bob's outlook was that cussing was okay because everyone heard it anyway and no one really cared. It didn't affect anyone, so why not? Bob's influence led me to be the kind of kid who dropped f-bombs every other sentence that left my mouth.

Once I was standing in my school's lunch room waiting to go to my locker. The hall monitor lady saw me loitering near the hallway door and must have assumed that I was up to no good. She forcefully told me to go take a seat despite my complaints that I wasn't doing anything. As I turned to leave, I muttered a single word under my breath. It starts with a "b" and it definitely wasn't uplifting in any way.

She heard me.

She looked stunned. As tears entered her eyes, she directed me to the principal's office. As I walked down the hall, a stunned look fell on my own face as I realized that I had genuinely hurt this woman. I apologized over and over to her, partly because I didn't want to get in trouble, but mostly because I saw how my words had crushed her. Bob was wrong. People do care and words do affect them. I couldn't take back what had slipped out, but I could change how I spoke from that moment onward.

James and his older brother Jesus both seem to think that our words matter because they reveal our hearts. (See Matt 5 and Matt 12). My words have power because they are a bridge from my heart to the hearts of the people around me. I can choose to either send words of pain or words of love across that bridge. I'm committed to building bridges of love.

1 comment:

  1. I love you Joel. You are a very humble honest leader. :)