I’ve been thinking lately about words… We spend an awful lot of time interacting with them: spending them, receiving them, pondering them, etc.
I’m probably over-simplifying this, but I want to suggest that there are three levels of words that we deal with in our lives. Each one of these categories are useful, but can also contain a certain amount of danger in them.
Level 1: “Wal-Mart Words”. I have nothing against Wal-Mart; like most American families, we shop there for certain items. But let’s be honest: there’s not a whole lot that’s special and unique about Wal-Mart, besides the fact that they are relatively easy to come by, and you know what you’re getting when you go there. Wal-Mart words are the words we run across as we go through our days: they can make us laugh, or cringe, but they are typically used to get through our lives, and are soon forgotten about. We need Wal-Mart in our lives (ever run out of toilet paper at 11:45 on Saturday night?), but our lives may not turn on our experience in a Wal-Mart store.
Level 2: “Luggage Words”. How long do you keep a suitcase? I don’t know what the prescribed retention is for luggage, but it seems like most of us keep ours around way past the date that it’s useful. I used to haul luggage out of my closet that was falling apart, had holes in it, and looked like my grandmother’s curtains from 1967. Luggage is something that we keep with us, usually for a while, and certain words are like that. They are the spoken at pivotal times in our lives: in departures, in graduations, at major events in our lives. They are often accompanied by tears and deep expressions of love.
The Apostle Paul speaks and hears words like this when he says goodbye to some friends in Ephesus (modern day turkey). The scene is recorded in the book of Acts. I find it to be one of the most moving scenes in the New Testament:
“‘Remember that for three years I constantly and tearfully warned each of you. I never stopped warning you! Now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all whom God has made holy…’ After he said these things, he knelt down with all of them to pray. They cried uncontrollably as everyone embraced and kissed Paul.”
Those are deep words, and deep emotions. I also think of Jesus with his disciples in John’s gospel, when he shares deep “luggage level” words in John 13-17. These are the types of things you don’t forget, and they give you life (hopefully) for a long time. They sustain you…
… But there’s another level still…
There are words that we hear (and ideally share) that are so deep they transcend our “luggage”, and speak to the foundation of our being.
They are what I simply call “Soul-Level” words.
These are the words that speak to the deepest level of who we are and who we most want to be. They challenge us to be better human beings, better Christ-followers. They call us to be full of more joy, gratitude, love, and humility.
But you know the most radical thing about these words?
Once we hear them, we must be very careful about sharing them.
Jesus’ mother, Mary, heard (and experienced) amazing things around his birth and childhood: prophecies, angelic encounters (ahem), babies jumping around in wombs.
In short, there was a lot to tell her that this was no ordinary child.
But a certain phrase in Luke’s gospel always struck me. In summing up Jesus’ childhood, Luke wrote that Jesus “went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. His mother cherished every word in her heart.” Other translations read that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart” (NIV).
Secrets lose their power when they are shared; when they are negative it’s one of the reasons that it’s good to dispel them, for once you shed light on them they tend to lose their effectiveness.
But what happens when the secret has a sort of powerful goodness that accompanies it?
When it’s the story of the Savior of the world who grows up obedient to his parents?
When it’s the story of prophecies fulfilled, prisoners set free, love embracing humanity?
When it’s the words of deepest affirmations that call to the highest parts of our soul?
Don’t we want those secrets to keep their power?
Most of the time, we run to share words that we’ve been given, either through Twitter, or Facebook, or over coffee or beer.
But I want to suggest that there are some words that you need to keep back for yourself. That you need to “cherish” and “treasure.” You need to go back to them, and you need to let them pour over you repeatedly like cool water on a July day.
But don’t give them away cheaply.
I’ve been fortunate to have received some of these words lately. They were so far out of my depth of understanding, it hurt (in a good way) to just read them. They called so much more out of me than I thought capable of giving.
And guess what: you’re not going to read them.
My prayer is that you get to read or hear those words from someone in your life. They have the power to change you, and to continue to change you.
My prayer is also that you have the chance to give those words to someone as well, knowing that they will reverberate for a long time in someone’s life. And remember: it’s not about eloquence, it’s about generosity of spirit, and of relational commitment.
And lastly, I pray that you lock those words away, and keep them between you, God, and the person you shared them with.
Because their power will go on.