Words are powerful.
The more and more I think about what that statement implies, the more I’m completely blow away by its truth.
We use thousands of different words each day. Some big, some small, some we make up… Words are how we express ourselves in a variety of circumstances. We are interactive, social beings that use language as a tool for growth and learning. And the more and more I have conversations with others, the more and more I learn from them and about myself.
One thing I’ve noticed a lot lately is how at any given time, words can pack a punch. I might be reading out of a text book and come across something that makes me go, ‘Whoa. That’s powerful stuff.’ And I might have that same reaction to an insight someone has during class, or when I’m listening to someone give a sermon at campus worship. In any case, the words that we use to describe things, or to convey ideas, are incredibly important.
Something that might surprise people is how our brain learns and retains things. Often times we don’t always filter information the first time we ‘learn’ it. In some cases it actually takes the human brain multiple tries to recognize, filter and store the information or stimuli it’s been given. From there it gets stored in our working, sensory, short or long term working memories for later use.
–I only bring this up because I want to share a time when words powerfully altered my understanding of my faith and myself.
During my freshman year I was going through a really rough time… I had just gotten broken up with, I didn’t understand anything about my life, none of my classes made sense and I had no focus or direction whatsoever. And as an 18/19 year old [as I’m sure it would be at any age] that was a difficult and scary place to be. I remember once when I was driving back to Simpson from a weekend at home and I was dreading everything about what I had to go back to… But on my 2 hour journey back to campus I decided to put on the radio. I don’t particularly like the mainstream music that’s played on the radio, so my alternative choice of listening that day happened to be the Christian radio station. And for the first time in about two months I sang…because up until this point, I had nothing to sing about. I was not happy. I was numb.
At some point in my karaoke-like travel experience I felt something deep in my chest…like when you have a lump in your throat but you don’t know how to get it out. I actually felt an aching in my heart. The kind of aching that you feel when you long for something that you miss… And I missed feeling anything.
Then this song came on… “By Your Side” by Tenth Avenue North. I had heard this song many, many times before, but something about the lyrics of the song on that particular day, at that exact moment hit me like a brick. The words weren’t new and the song arrangement was familiar. But it was how it was presented at that moment which made the message stick. I may not have paid much attention the first time, but I certainly did the next time. And every ounce of my being was fully immersed in the feeling of God’s unconditional love and grace.
I don’t know what it was about those words…but they packed one hell of a punch. And I needed that more than anything I’ve ever needed in my life. I was never the same after that day in the car, and I’m not ashamed to say that. I was reduced to a state of vulnerability and God used that in a way that might not make a lot of sense. It still doesn’t really make sense to me, but it’s something that I felt very deeply.
It was a powerful message given through words.
We often gloss over the words and messages that are presented to us. Sometimes we just don’t make the connections, and other times we’re just not paying attention. In my case, this particular message was pretty straight forward: ‘And I’ll be by your side wherever you fall. In the dead of night, whenever you call. Please don’t fight these hands that are holding you.’ But it doesn’t always work that way. I feel like God becomes present when we least expect it, and certain things are revealed to us in those moments. But for whatever reason we can’t predict them…which I’m afraid is incredibly frustrating.
But when we do pay attention, I’m convinced we can find hope in the message and in our own words if we choose to. It’s so important to think about the words we use, or don’t use, and how they can effect others. You never know if something you say will be another person’s ‘ah-ha!’ moment in life or that pick-me-up they’ve been needing. It could change their whole perspective and understanding…and that’s a big deal.
I would like to propose a challenge that we might strive to go throughout our days and weeks being vigilant for the message that we can receive and also give to others. It doesn’t have to be something incredibly profound, but something with substance… Because words are beautiful and powerful parts of our lives. They can do so much.
May these words offer some wisdom and some comfort for those who need it.
– Erin Guzman [Intern of Spiritual Formation and Celebration]