The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us.
I hurt my beloved*. It wasn’t intentional and it probably wasn’t even avoidable but in truth it happened. I needed to share my concerns, ideas and wishes with him. And I just couldn’t find the right words. As I shared – with the intention of being honest – all he was able to hear was criticism and words that picked at what we both thought were old wounds healed. And as the conversation unfolded no matter how hard I tried, I could not find the words that he could hear that also expressed my equally valid need. In the end we weren’t able to fully resolve the concern. But we were able to remain in our relationship knowing these concerns were not unearthed to win a point or hurt the other. Sometimes we just can’t find the right words.
Have you ever tried to learn something from an expert? They are so intimate with the subject, the nuances, and the implications of certain interactions that they just can’t explain it to a novice. Their intention is good, they want us to understand, but that one word or turn of phrase that would clear the fuzz, allow for understanding and perhaps agreement alludes us both. And we spiral together into frustration and sometimes accusations of stubbornness, being unwilling to bend or intentionally not understanding just out of spite. Good intentions devolve into a power struggle that never needed to happen.
As children many of us probably chanted Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me. I think most of us know words can be more hurtful than any weapon. They hold power and it’s a power so strong because it burrows deep and becomes part of our narrative, of who we are. Sometimes it’s a power that oppresses, controls and keeps us down, words used to hurt others as they’ve been hurt or worse the fear of being hurt. Yet some of those same words can be liberating, life-giving, invitations of healing as we’ve been healed.
I’m mindful of how words have changed me. When I started this position two years ago, I initially thought of this as an office, with tasks, things to be done. After a few conferences, workshops and encounters with others, it became clear that this is a ministry not just an office. And I began to ask, what does a social justice ministry look like from a pastoral care lens? Just words – but words that changed everything for me. Living into those words, I am not just ticking off a check-list of meetings, petitions, actions, number of bills passed that we endorse. I change how I am at those meetings and actions; I change how I engage those who make decisions that can either help or hurt others. I feel it is something we take for granted when we are working for peace and justice and right relationship. We forget the power of the word.
When I hold something dear – a need, an ideology, a desire for the care and well-being of those being hurt – I know it intimately. And I cannot always find the best way to help others hear and know its importance to me. I cannot always find the right words that clear the fear or discomfort of another in hearing my story. My words may trigger wounds believed healed, long forgotten. And if I spiral into the need of being right, or being “heard” I’ve lost any chance to find the right words.
I don’t think it’s insignificant that we are told in the book of John that the “Word became a human being full of grace and truth, and walked among us”. There is power in words, they shape us, the allow us to catch a glimpse of things unknown. The gospel is good news because it gave us the power, not by might, but by knowing the Word can bring the kindom now by becoming the word as human beings walking with grace and truth.
How do we recognize the power of our words? How do we balance the need to care for another yet still speak our truth? And how do we make amends when our truth has hurt another? How do we live the good news with one another in this unfinished world?
On the path,
*My husband gave me his blessing to share this part of our story.