Writers understand the power of words. Our goal is to carefully craft sentences to stir up emotion within our readers, so hearts synchronize in tempo with that of the heroine and lungs breathe the same air as the hero. The thesaurus is our right hand as we pursue the perfect phrasing to construct an image or engrave an impression.
Often, the power of words is underestimated. We forget how, in Genesis 1, God spoke the world into being. Nine paragraphs begin with “God said,” and then something was created, for instance, “Let there be light (Gen 1:3)” and “Let us make mankind in our image (Gen 1:26).” Jacob, in the Bible, understood the power of a blessing. He pretended to be his brother Esau by tying goat skins to his arms so that his almost blind father Isaac would bless him instead. A father’s blessing was so powerful that when Esau found out what had happened, he begged his father to bless him too, but Isaac could only tell Esau he would live by the sword and serve his brother (Genesis 27).
Words can be life-giving, or words can be a loaded weapon.
Our careers, passions, and lifepaths are frequently formed by words of encouragement that speak life to our dreams, but a negative comment can be a dream crusher. My fifth-grade teacher saw my creative writing potential and instilled the seed of becoming a writer within my heart, but my seventh-grade teacher criticized my grammar and set my dream back twenty years. Now, I kick myself for listening to that seventh-grade teacher (and praise God for grammar correcting software).
Recently, my husband and I have been working with married couples of all ages and hear a lot of “If only he would…” and “She needs to…” We hear a lot of I and me and very few us and we. They don’t recognize the criticism and judgment in their words. Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson performed a longitudinal study to identify happy and unhappy couples. They discovered a ratio that could depict whether a married couple would stay together versus become divorced with 90% accuracy. That ratio was five positive interactions to every negative one (Benson, The Magic Relationship Ratio, The Gottman Institute, Oct 2017). It takes five compliments to overshadow one criticism.
James 3:10 says, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” But, how do we change the pattern of spewing criticism? I’ve taken to praying as David did in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” It’s a daily struggle to die to the greedy pride of self and bite our tongue before it starts a fire that burns out of control.
What of those hurtful comments that still echo in our ears? Deuteronomy 30:19 God says, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” We can choose blessing and shake off the hurtful words that have hung over us like a dark cloud. We can choose life and life-giving words to live by.
We can weld the weapon of words for good.
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