Wearing Words

Words dress our spirits. Hurtful words clothe us in dark moods, encouraging words in confidence. Loving words whispered from dear ones are like undergarments, essential yet personal.

I’ve dressed my family in some shabby clothes today. I sent my husband to work wearing discouragement and failure. For my own ensemble I put on words of anger, pity, and lies. My children are wearing my words of condemnation and impatience.

Any of us who have experienced the impact of harmful or positive words can attest to their power. Words are hardly neutral. Those who live under the strain of an emotional abuser know that words can erode hope off the banks of the heart, and are often more painful than a fist. Just consider the verbal flogging Job’s friends gave him.

Solomon speaks of the beauty words can bestow, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

James gives witness to the negative power of the tongue, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark…With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (3:5, 9-10). I was sent to my room once as a child to meditate on this exposition.

We are affected not only by the words we say, but by the words we fail to say. Words unspoken leave us naked. We need to hear affirmations from friends and family, and when those don’t come, we put on our own despair, Who cares about me?

In a sense, God is also dressed in the words we say to him. We dress him with praise and thanksgiving. Some dress him with curses.

The only words guaranteed to clothe our spirits with hope are the words of the Word. The words  of Scripture safeguard our hearts from the daily assaults of careless, casual, or cursing words. When we read the words of God, we adorn ourselves in truth and our spirits are armored against the evil one.

And of course, Jesus, as the Incarnate Word, clothes us in righteousness. When we put on Jesus, we put on priestly robes (as opposed to the rags). Although I put him on once, initially, for salvation, I find myself in desperate need to dress myself again each morning in the Spirit of Christ. If I have any hope of my own words bestowing grace and beauty, I’ve got to be wearing the Word.

Sheep Ears

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:14, 27)

We like to think that the noise of the world crowds out the gentler voice of the Spirit, but really, what is blocking my ears tonight is my own grumpiness.

Lately I’ve been waking up sour. I attribute this to several factors – the disobedience of children, the odd work schedule of my husband, hormones, and the stress of packing for vacation. I start the day with a prayer that sounds more like a plea. I plead for grace. I beg for a peaceful day, which in my mind means that the children cooperate, refrain from hitting one another and yelling nonsense words loudly during meals, and (please, God) do not cause property damage.

Whether its family life or a plain case of spiritual malaise, my ears have been deaf. I don’t hear grace. I don’t hear peace. I don’t hear a Shepherd. Instead, I hear failure. I hear discouragement. I hear happy people on the radio talking about 4th of July crafts with their perfect children – and I turn the radio off. I read blogs written by super moms discussing family game nights during which spiritual truths are instantly embodied and put into action by sweet children – and I shut down the computer. I can’t handle the voices of the world right now, even those of the “let-me-advise-you” evangelical world.

I need one Voice, and I need it now.

Voices are personal. When we know people well, we know their voices. When we hear the voices of those we love we feel joy. When their voices are absent, we ache. I’ve been aching lately.

Sheep may be dumb and stinky, but in their own simple way, they get a lot right. They know their shepherd. They hear their shepherd. They follow their shepherd. Because they are near the Shepherd, they can hear him. Near to hear. When they lie down to sleep, the Shepherd lies across the opening of the pen, hemming them inside.

What I need tonight is sheep ears. I need to be near the Shepherd. I need to be hemmed in. I need to stop this pattern of bleating every time I’m discouraged. I need him to speak over my dumb, stinky, weary sheep heart anything so long as it comes from him.