Words Matter

Last summer, I had the joy of interviewing my grandmother about her life. We set up a camera, sat down on her couch and chatted for hours. It was a gift. I loved learning more about her and the experiences she went through. One thing that struck me was her admiration for her two grandmothers. She described them as “two very special ladies.” She told me they never said a bad thing about anyone. She remembers their motto was, “There’s so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it ill becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us.”

I wish I lived that way.

Too often I’m quick to jump in with a judgmental comment, a piece of gossip, or an arrogant remark. A priest recently told me something about the importance of words. It blew me away. He said, “Our words are meant to bring us into conformity with the Word: Jesus Christ.”

That’s profound. The words I speak everyday can lead me into union with Jesus. My words are meant to be a way of participating in the very person of Christ.

Jesus is the Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a). He is the Word of God. In a way, He is the singular Word in which God spoke everything to us. I am meant to model my words after God’s Word: Jesus. So what does Jesus’ very being tell me about how I should use my words?

The Gospel of John describes the Word of God as “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b). Think of the way Jesus spoke to the outcasts, the way he spoke to the sick, the suffering, the poor, the lonely, the sinners. He spoke the truth with love. He saw each person, truly saw them. He made them know that they were loved. When our words are full of grace and truth, we become one with Christ. The Word not only dwells among us but in us, and we can speak Him into the world. Our words truly are sacred.

Catherine Doherty says this, “To control speech is to recover its sacredness, to understand that sometimes the words of an innocent ‘joke,’ spoken without thinking, can have disastrous results, can be the ‘last straw’ that pushes a person into despair…we must speak words of tenderness, love, pity, compassion, and gentleness because we are men and women of faith.”

I hope that, with God’s grace and help, I can speak words that encourage rather than crush. Words that affirm rather than judge. Words that give hope. This is my prayer for each of us. And then who knows?

Maybe someone will be sitting on a couch 70 years from now talking about how much your words meant to them.