I’m a word guy. I love words. I love to paint pictures with words, to spin yarns, to create metaphors that help people remember things that they might otherwise forget.
Words are powerful, they’re important, they can lift a person up or tear a person down. We can share them quickly and then find that maybe we should have waited a little bit longer for them to escape our mouths.
The average person speaks about 16,000 words a day. That’s an awful lot of words. That’s the equivalent of about forty-eight pages of a double-spaced paper. Imagine that, each of us could write about fifty pages each day based on what we say.
But I wonder how many of those words we wish we could take back. I wonder how many of those words are words that we’ve really thought about, words that we’ve been intentional about, words that were meant to lift up and not tear down.
I don’t think words mean as much as to some others as they mean to me. We throw around words too easily today. I’ve used the metaphor before, but it serves repeating to say that we live in an age of digital hand grenades where we throw words over the “wall” of the internet and walk away feeling satisfied without always thinking about the “explosion” that is caused by those words that we just threw out.
During my sabbatical, I’ve felt the need to slow things down for myself. I’ve been writing in a journal….by hand. The first couple of days were brutal, my hand hadn’t hurt like that in a while. There wasn’t a whole lot of muscle memory since I’m one who typically writes while staring at a computer screen. But the more that I’ve done it, the easier it’s gotten. I still can’t write as fast as I type, but that’s the point, I can slow down.
I was extended a few invitations in the beginning of my sabbatical. I admit that some of them were my own invitations, inviting myself to visit someone or some place. When I got home from some of these trips, the easy thing for me to do would have been to hop on my computer and write a quick email, to compile my words in 300 words or less and press “Send.” But that felt a little impersonal to me.
I thought about the many cards and letters that I’ve received over the years. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Special occasions. Not so special occasions. The loss of a parent. The transition of a job. I’ve got a file where I keep a lot of these cards and when I’m having “one of those days,” I go to the file and start to read. I read words that someone took the time to write to me, words that were meant to lift me up and encourage me. Someone took the time to use a pen and paper rather than to simply send an email. And those words make me smile.
So, when I got home from those trips, I sat down with some blank cards that I keep for just such occasions. I thought about what I would write before I started, because you can’t just hit “backspace” when you’re using a pen. I wrote, not much, but I wrote. And I think that when those people got their mail and opened up those cards, they realized that I had put more into what was written than just sitting in front of my computer screen. I think that they knew how much it meant to me for them to take the time to spend time with me, to invest in me, to help me out. And I hope they smiled.
Words are cheap, but cheap words can still cut deeply. In fact, the cheaper the words, the deeper they might cut and the harsher the wound.
I’m doing my best to richen up my words. I’m doing my best to think about the impact before they’re out, out of my mouth or out of my hands. Others might still cheapen words, but I’m going to do my best to make sure that I’m thinking about them before they’re out. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s words but my own……well, and maybe the words of my children because they generally copy the things that I say. So, may my words be seasoned with salt and may they be used to build others up rather than cutting them down.