When I was a very young girl – just starting out learning to play the piano – I somehow ended up with a little paperback hymn book. It was so old that the notes printed on the music staffs were not the “rounded” notes of today – but the little triangle, square, oval and rectangle shapes of long ago. These were known as “shape notes” with each shape representing its position on the musical scale.
I had no idea about any of this. All I knew was they were very strange to play. But, somehow, after much trial and error, I learned to play one of the songs in the book – “Wonderful Words of Life.” I would play and sing like I really knew what I was doing. It was a simple hymn – and I don’t recall singing it much, if any, at church – but It was easy for the young me to play and sing. So that I did – again and again.
The first verse and chorus went:
“Sing them over again to me, Wonderful Words of Life;
Let me more of their beauty see, Wonderful Words of Life;
Words of Life and Beauty, teach me faith and duty;
Beautiful Words, Wonderful Words, Wonderful Words of Life,
Beautiful Words, Wonderful Words, Wonderful Words of Life.”
Simple enough for a child to play and sing – repeatedly.
Yet – not so simple to always live by.
I’ve been made aware recently, maybe more than at any other time in my life, of the power of words. I’ve been involved in a few conversations that have “gelled” something in my life and mind that I have never before really seemed to be able easily understand. I’ve never been able to pull all of the pieces together in a complete picture. But something “clicked” as I thought through these conversations. Some I was involved in. Some I merely heard about.
One of the most profound and powerful quotes I ever heard was by Brennan Manning. I’ve shared it, taught it, thought about it, written about it and been convicted by it. Manning insightfully said, “in every encounter we either give life or drain it; there is no neutral exchange.”
Reread that – In EVERY encounter. Give life. Drain life. NO neutral exchange. – Those are all absolutes.
When we think about it – most of our encounters are either by word, action or “look” (e.g. “eye roll”). I guess I should throw in the ever-present (and challenging) “tone!”
Hang on to that quote for a minute.
While teaching a parenting class at our church, my husband and I recounted a concept we learned, ourselves, in a parenting class years ago.
In his book “How to Really Love Your Child,” Dr. Ross Campbell discusses our children having “emotional fuel tanks.” He stressed that we, as parents, have the responsibility (and the privilege) of filling the emotional fuel tanks of our children.
The concept is a simple one and applies to every close – or not so close – relationship we may have. It is applicable to relationships with our spouse, our children, our friends, even casual relationships in our neighborhoods, schools, churches and workplaces.
Basically, we all have these emotional fuel tanks. They can be filled with – you guessed it- unconditional love and encouraging words and actions. These, along with kindness, gratefulness, generosity, compliments (honest ones – not flattery), positive words, thoughts and actions – all things that “build up,” not “tear down” – can fill, revive and empower a weary soul.
Of course, they can also be filled with all of the discouraging and negative words and a whole lot of “stuff.” However, I contend those never “fill” – they only “drain!” They are only and always emotional withdrawals.
It is imperative that we seek to fill these emotional fuel tanks with love, encouragement and the other “good” things! Why? Because, we will, in our humanness, inevitably say or do something that will “drain” them! Intentionally or unintentionally. Even to the ones we love and hold dearest.
If these tanks have not been filled, never been filled, or are already drained dry – any “withdrawal” harms and hurts to the core.
In those dry tanks there is no cushion to shelter the heart, soul and mind from the discouragement, unkindness, harshness – even if based on truth. The words, looks or actions pierce deeply and echo through the empty “tank.” They can become imbedded deep and wide and long.
They drain life. They surely do not give life.
As we begin a new year, what changes can we make to radiate “Wonderful Words of Life” to those we live with, work with, and encounter on a regular or irregular basis?
In John 10:10 Jesus says he came to “give life” or so that we may “have life” and have it abundantly. As we grow to emulate him in our lives, our words and our ways, may we, also, give life abundantly.
We can’t give life literally, spiritually or eternally – but we can use our lives, words and actions to love, encourage and fill others with an abundance of inspiration, joy, kindness, support, reassurance – the “things” money can’t buy. These can help each of us navigate life on the good days and the difficult days. They can provide salt and light – things we need to live vibrant and edifying lives.
There is the truth in scripture of “iron sharpening iron” – but without a foundation filling and supporting the iron – the “sharpening” merely wears it away. It is “speaking the truth in love.”
Are you a life giver or a life drainer? Do your words and actions encourage or discourage? Are your words like honey or vinegar? Do you feel like you must speak or write your truth, opinion and knowledge no matter how it may affect the listener or reader? There are dozens of other queries that could be included here.
I must ask these questions of myself as well. Do I really listen to what I say? Reread and ponder what I may write? Do I hear my own tone? Do I watch the reaction to the one I’m addressing? Do I even notice their countenance fall, their eyes show hurt, their presence shrink back?
Seek to give life! Fill those lives and “tanks!” Encourage, give, be generous with words and actions, express gratitude, provide joy, illuminate the positive, be truthful, be salty, be kind, be gentle – and do it all in love!
May your 2024 be filled to the brim and overflow with Wonderful Words of Life! – – – And may they overflow into the lives of all you may encounter along the way!
Epilogue to the Blog –
Wait a minute! What if you are the one whose heart has been drained? What if you are the one who is discouraged and disillusioned because of the words and actions of another?
I actually had pondered and had the outline of this blog jotted down almost two years ago. Then someone said something to me, about me, that shook me to my very core. The words stung deeply. They made me question who I was, who I proclaimed to be, how the rest of the world perceived me.
It’s taken me a long while to get back. To readjust my thinking. To realize in whom I have my identity. To have my heart heal. I’m in my “almost” mid 60’s – a fairly stable person – and yet words were still able to send me spinning.
I know there are others among you whose hearts have been drained and wounded.
But take heart, the Lord Jesus came to give abundant life. Those of us who are “in Christ” have our identity in Him. And those who are not yet “in Christ” have that open invitation to turn your hearts and lives over to Him.
And the most important and best part – He understands!
There is a Psalm that describes a wounded heart and life. It is the cry of David and is a foreshadowing of Jesus on the cross.
Psalm 109, verses 22-25 read:
“For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is wounded within me.
I fade away like an evening shadow;
I am shaken off like a locust.
My knees give way from fasting;
my body is thin and gaunt.
I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
when they see me, they shake their heads.”
But be encouraged, because the preceding verse 21 reads:
“But you, Sovereign Lord,
help me for your name’s sake;
out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.”
And He does. And He will.
A verse that I’ve known for a very long time finally worked its way from the back of my mind to my heart. It helped get me back on track. Maybe it can help you as well.
II Timothy 1:7 provides this awesome truth –
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
So, weary ones, take heart! And as I tell my girls – “Chin up!”
A Christmas song that has been meaningful to me this year, “O Come All You Unfaithful” sings of those who are weary and broken, among other heart conditions.
But the premise and the hope – “Come, see what your God has done!”
And the “what”? – Christ is born! And why did He come? Among so many other wonderful reasons – back to John 10:10 – “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Blessings to you as you seek faithfully the One who can heal all hearts!
And as for me – I’ve got thoughts to keep pondering, words to keep writing and an almost finished book to complete. And I’m so very grateful for those of you who I know will keep me accountable!
Happy New Year to each of you!