You know the feeling when you say something and you realise later, "Oops, perhaps that really wasn't the best thing I could have said?" I had some occasions this week where the words that came out of my mouth didn't really express the sentiments that I wanted them to. Instead, they reflected my impatience and an annoying habit of trying to force things right by my own efforts. I hate it when that happens. It leaves me feeling scummy and a bit paranoid about ever opening my mouth again. It can also lead me down a path of unhelpful introspection where everyone's actions around me become tied into something I did or said wrong, at least in my skewed perspective. I mean, how much more self-centred can one get?
The nagging sense of failure clung to me for a few days, even after I apologised to people, and then I received a note from a friend far away. She was recalling some random comment I made to her years ago; it was a fond and funny memory and she wanted me to know the positive impact I have had in her life. Really? I didn't even remember making that silly comment, but her note brought a smile to my face and some peace to my worry. Maybe I wasn't quite the murderer with words that I thought I was.
Another thing happened this morning that reminded me not to take myself so seriously. I had house guests last night, and after they left, I discovered that one of them had left a shirt in the bathroom. I quickly pulled out my cell phone and sent a text message. This is how the text conversation went:
Me: Tim, you left your brown t-shirt in my bathroom. Oops!
Tim: Who is this!
Me (thinking Tim is being silly): Matte
Not Tim: Don't know you. Guess you have wrong #.
I checked the number and realised that I had indeed transposed the last two numbers when I entered them. What a message to send to a total stranger! Good thing I included the name, Tim, which alerted the receiver that something was not quite right! Imagine some man mentally going over the bathrooms he had frequented in the last 24 hours, wondering what he didn't remember. Or imagine some wife getting that message and thinking, yes, my husband was wearing a brown shirt yesterday! It could have led to a crazy misunderstanding, all because I got a few numbers wrong. Thankfully, the person on the other end of the text message quickly figured it out, and the conversation was reduced to a funny text accident.
I have been thinking about words and how much power I ascribe to them. Yes, words are powerful, but I forget that God's love is more powerful. Assuming that my words have the authority to make or break someone's life, even by a few slips of the tongue (or thumb), is arrogance. Yes, our words have creative power because God's words carry the ultimate creative power, and we are his image-bearers. However, there is always the R factor: the presence of redemption can turn a shitty, stinking mess of a situation into a flowering bed of daisies, roses, or whatever your favourite plant is.
I think that perhaps words do not have power in and of themselves. There is a radical difference between a parrot and a person saying the same sentence. Words mostly reflect what is going on in our hearts: whether we are loving and generous people or self-involved and greedy people. Words are meant to lead to life and beauty, and I believe they always can. Even when I wield them badly. If I submit to God's loving purposes, he can take my unskillful and mangled words, weave them into his large and merciful goodness, and somehow come up with a beautiful tapestry that reflects his glorious magnificence.
I don't know how God does it, but when I say something mean and hurtful in a moment of frustration, the simple act of surrender can turn the mistake into a doorway to life. Through my mistake, I can learn to practise humility, learn to love better, learn how to deepen a friendship by working through a rough bit, and learn to participate in the mystery and hard work of reconciliation. I can also learn to look for the prevailing heart motivations of people instead of making snap judgments based on individual and uncontextualised words.
Yes, I say silly things sometimes. Yes, I say unloving things sometimes, but I'll be darned if an occasional fumble or setback will make me run off the playing field. Conversations are only short plays in a long game. I will pick up the words again. I will pass them along better. I will keep moving to the goal. I will leave mistakes behind while learning from them, both for myself and others, and not give up hope. There is life to be had from words, if I am only patient and gracious enough to first let God grow it inside of me.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. - Psalm 19:14 (New Living Translation)
This is a picture of a page under "M" in my dictionary. I inherited it from my father's library.