For When You Have No Words

the-english-landscape-1334507649HGf

Last week, I sat down at my laptop to write a blog post. I titled a page and began to peck away at the keys before everyone woke up.

The next day, I once again set the laptop on my knees and plugged away at words, this time careening in a different direction.

By the end of that typing session, I had two very different partial-posts and no ideas of what I actually wanted to write.

When writers look for advice, there is one thing we’re always told:

“Write what you know.”

In other words, go out and live life. Write about things you’ve actually done or experienced. You can’t write if you don’t have an existence outside the written word.

But, dear writing community, I have stumbled across another problem.

I have discovered that it is possible to live so much that you run clean out of words.

Thoughts worthy of blog posts can come in fits and starts, ordinarily. Lately, though, I have been so immersed in life that when I sit down to think of a good post topic, I lean my head back on my headboard and go blank. Ideas pop up and I quickly squelch them.

I wonder if there is such a thing as too much writing material.

Just now, I live in a new world everyday. I wake up to complications and emotions that I’m just beginning to learn how to ride out.

Learning how to be an adult, in a house of six adults. Trying to give daily, intensive love to eight other people. Discovering how my family members and I handle stress. Finding out just how unreliable feelings are. Caring for my big, crazy family, sometimes long-distance. Looking for new things to learn. Opening my heart to bigger hurts and bigger loves. Juggling a schedule that isn’t even funny. Hoping to pull off a good job for my supervisor. Trying to find out where social media fits in. Learning that my life balance is something I have to discover by trial and error…lots of error. Squeezing in a book or a podcast in there somewhere. Singing, a lot.

Sometimes life lessons crystallize in slow motion, over a period of days or weeks. These days, so many lessons pour over my head that I’m slow to catch them, much less be able to put them into words.

But, even here there is a lesson.

When life crowds out your words, go back to the basics.

Jesus. Run back to Jesus.

Life can get too confusing. It gets crowded–full of mess and hurt and blessings and busyness. Whether the days whiz by or crawl, they often don’t seem to get any lighter. Breathing can be hard, and living can be weighty. Life is hard to condense into a neat package and tie up in a bow.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s not supposed to be nice and neat. 

I think life is meant to be a paradox. Everything may be wildly incoherent and out of my control…but all wrapped up in the hand of God.

“I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.”

 – paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 2:2, from the Message –

When the apostle Paul went to Corinth, he didn’t try to help people make spiritual sense of their lives with anything other than the Gospel. Jesus was the totality of His message.

You see, the Gospel merges the broken, jagged puzzle pieces of our lives into a coherent whole.

Jesus–the crucified and resurrected Redeemer–truly redeems. He buys back the lives, the days, the purposes of every detail of existence. Because of Jesus, the picture of our lives, though incomplete from our perspective, starts to make sense.

Life doesn’t work without Jesus.

In the book of Acts, Paul quotes the Greek philosopher Epimenides, using Greek poetry to describe the centrality of Christ:

“For in Him we live and move and exist….” – Acts 17:28

The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, “[by] his own mighty word…holds the universe together” (Hebrews 1:3, CEV).

This truth is the reason why, when I am drained of words, I still have one word:

Jesus.

I don’t have to make sense of my crazy, whirlwind world. Taking one day at a time, I just have to love the next person in front of me, “do the next right thing,” and offer up each moment as something I’m doing to make my Savior glad.

The Gospel says that Jesus is enough.

When I run out of understanding…

Out of energy,

Out of intuition,

Out of words…

He is still there.

In Him, I am not a chaotic mess. In Him, I am centered.

In Him, I am home.

 

Advertisements

Swords and Silver Boxes

woman-holding-silver-gift

“Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal.”

 – Proverbs 12:18, GNT –


This verse made me stop in my tracks this past week.

I have probably literally heard it my whole life. I should know this, right? 🙂

Recently, a friend shared with me the deep pain that several people’s random comments and inappropriate words caused her. It was just this past week, as I considered blogging on the power of words, that I realized the connection to this verse.

The Bible has plenty to say about how we speak. Be kind to one another. Build up. Don’t curse one another. Speak the truth in love.

We know this.

But this particular verse especially stood out to me because people I cared about were being knocked flat because of words that people didn’t even intend to be hurtful. I can’t judge hearts, but I know these fellow Christians most likely did not intend their speech to be so deadly. But it was.

What does the proverb say again?

“Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword….”

The verse doesn’t say “evil words.” It doesn’t say “malicious” or even “premeditated words.”

Thoughtless.

The reality of life is that you and I could walk into the world today and just blurt out something…and it could absolutely destroy someone.

Don’t get me wrong–people have choices about how they respond to wrong words. But God doesn’t expect us to blame our carelessness on the wounded. He places the responsibility of love directly the speaker.

Thoughtless words.

How many times a day do I carelessly throw out sentences? Many times in the last few weeks, I’ve become angry at the way other people fling thoughtless words at those I love. “That is SO insensitive,” I’ve internally ranted. “How can they not see how wrong that is?”

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love to talk will have to eat their own words.” – Proverbs 18:21, GW

Recently, someone I dearly love and respect excused his quick, thoughtless words as “just his personality.” He stopped and thought something like, “I wonder if I should say that?” And then he verbally announced his mental process and proceeded to speak his mind anyway. He knew better. But, because he identified as a blunt person, he thought that gave him liberty to say what he was thinking in that situation. I wonder, if he knew what his words might have cost, if he would think his liberty was worth that much.

I’m not advocating over-sensitivity or timidity when it comes to conversing with others. But we should certainly strive toward more compassion and less haste, more tactfulness and less impulsiveness. More Christ-likeness and less me-likeness. This verse about thoughtless words compels me to examine my communication and pray for grace to enrich lives rather than reduce them to dust.

Ladies, we especially have power to build or destroy with our words. Proverbs contains several laments of men who would have preferred to camp out on the edge of their roof than be in the same house as a cantankerous girl. Our gender, famous for using countless thousands of words each day, would do especially well to remember the harm that unthinking words can instigate.

Florence Littauer, a dear Christian woman, wrote a book called Silver Boxes. In it, she recounts the story of a little girl who compared giving encouraging words to giving someone a silver-wrapped gift.

What a piercing thought.

Our words can be silver-cased swords, ready to cut to the quick…

Or they can be silver-wrapped boxes, filled with delight.

Practically, what kind of words come as silver-crusted daggers? While I’m sure situations vary greatly, here are a few examples of insensitive ones: physical appearance, mental or physical ability, psychological labels (even as a joke), misunderstood teasing, reminding people of past mistakes or sins, untempered criticism, or any words that belittle or discourage.

Whew. Not a fun list.

If those are the kinds of words to shun, what can we put on instead? I know, in my family, much of the above list is absolutely taboo.  We’re not particularly noble –- my brother and I were just never allowed to use them!

For me, then, my biggest challenge is the handoff between silver swords and silver boxes. Honestly, when I examine myself, I see more sins of omission in the area of words.

While I definitely say wrong things, mostly I don’t say enough right things.

“Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and invigorating to the bones,” says Proverbs 16:24, NABRE.

What can you say? How about one of these: I’m proud of you. I really respect/appreciate you. Wow, look at what God has done in your life! Hey, how can I pray for you today? I love you. I am really glad you are in my life. What a good Father we have! I know He has this situation under control, even if we don’t understand. 

I told you at the beginning of this post that a friend of mine has been suffering from thoughtless words. What did these words do? They made a Christian girl have to work twice as hard to fight lies, because other people were unwittingly joining the chorus of temptations she already faced. They struck her with pain, because people she loved were using their words like knives. Unknown to those around her, they were actually siding with the devil, helping him tear down a soul. What a horrible thought!

And there I was on the other end of the spectrum. I was the one hearing the effects of these hurtful words and praying for words to pick up the pieces.

I get frustrated, because sometimes it seems to take 10 encouraging words to undo 1 hurtful word. But with this friend and with others, I now more clearly see the battlefield of communication. From time to time, God puts me on the front lines and gives me the gift of speaking truth into a hurting heart. He asks me to give out silver boxes.

If you think words can kill, you’re right.

But wait until God uses your words to bring life to dull eyes. This is real living, my friends. And I don’t dive into this abundant life nearly enough.

It is a battle. If you engage with encouragement, you are going to see some amazing things happen.

God gave us the gift of words. With the forgiveness and love of Jesus as our motivation and the grace of our Lord as our power, let’s make a choice to craft our silver into gift boxes of encouragement, not slicing swords.

Words are pretty powerful stuff. Whose life can you build up today?


“So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.”

 – 1 Thessalonions 5:11, CEB –

 

Acute Nearness

IMG_20160326_224539

Jesus’ acute nearness in suffering…I don’t have the words to explain it to you. 

All I can hope for is a close approximation, something that casts a vision or projects for you a shadow of what I am learning firsthand. 

I’m not sure what to call this suffering-joy. It needs its own word, for an ineffable something that I can feel to the tips of my toes, but remain unsure if I can speak. 

But I think I must try, for it is, in the end, great glory to a good, good Father. 


My house is full of life.

My comfortable family of four has transformed into an amalgam of nine very different people, often under one roof. When friends were hurting, we were positioned to be a refuge. So we took a plunge,  off a steep cliff, into the dark.

What happened when four became nine?

Realities of the world outside the four walls of our home hit us hard. Very hard. We knew before that these realities existed. But we didn’t really know what it was like.

What do hard realities feel like? 

They feel like words too big to fit through your throat, a roundhouse kick to your stomach, or a stranglehold on your lungs. It hurts, terribly. It can be consuming and draining.

But that’s not so very strange. People don’t wonder at suffering being hard. That’s just how it is.

Here’s the strange part: I’m not really sorry about it.

Certainly, I am not glad for evil, or the effects of sin, but I’m actually very tremendously glad to be suffering in just this way, just now. Not because it is pleasant.

But because Jesus is coming clearer.

People often say, “This drove me to my knees.”

Maybe they use those words so much because that’s a very good word picture of how pain actually works. Life grinds us down until our knees are the only place we have a hope of standing. Before God in prayer–this becomes the only way to navigate harsh, painful moments.

Prayer becomes like breathing in these times.

This what I call Jesus’ “acute nearness.” Acute means sharp, poignant, clear, stabbing, profound. That’s what is happening to me. His proximity grows more and more obvious to me these days. His truth becomes precious and a thing desperately craved. I need Him. Now, right now, for this next breath.

I have never had days like this. Wow, have they ever been hard! I’ve never felt anything like it.

But Jesus is so close. So dear. Everything.

I can’t bring myself to be sorry.

And since we are his children, we will share his treasures—for all God gives to his Son Jesus is now ours too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later. For all creation is waiting patiently and hopefully for that future day when God will resurrect his children.” 

 – Romans 8:17-18, TLB –

This isn’t a post about my troubles. This isn’t even a post about sharing the burdens of others.

This is a reminder for you, when the winds of suffering are about to blow you down.

“Courage, dear heart,” Aslan whispers to Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

This is my whisper to you. “Courage!”

Whatever came yesterday, whatever happened today, whatever tomorrow holds–run to Jesus. His acute nearness in suffering will make you wonder at the joy that can come out of pain, and the laughter that is born in the middle of tears.

He makes the bitter sweet.

God doesn’t ask us to wish for bitter. But when sorrow comes, Jesus is far more than worth it.

I can testify to that.

“We wish you could see how all this is working out for your benefit, and how the more grace God gives, the more thanksgiving will [lead to] to his glory. This is the reason why we never collapse. The outward man does indeed suffer wear and tear, but every day the inward man receives fresh strength. These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain. For we are looking all the time not at the visible things but at the invisible. The visible things are transitory: it is the invisible things that are really permanent.”
 – 2 Corinthians 4:15-18, Phillips –