STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 05/06/2011

Words Matter

Words matter: those written or whispered as well as those heard, read or thought. Consider these simple phrases: “I love you”; “Please forgive me”; “Thank you so much”; “I forgive you”; or “I’m listening.” Do you need to hear or speak any of these words?

My grandmother completed just eight years of formal education in Norway before coming to this country to work as a maid in New York City. She was just 15 years old. The Jewish women she worked for taught her to speak English and showed her how to use the New York Public Library. My grandmother loved to read and memorize poetry. She became wise, and a lifelong learner.

One day when I was a young girl, she took me aside to teach me the power of words through a poem she’d memorized.

Boys flying kites haul in their white-winged birds.
You can’t do that when you’re flying words.
Once spoken, though you wish them left unsaid,
God Himself can’t kill them, make them dead.

Not the best poetry, but great wisdom. I cherish memories of sneaking peeks at my grandmother cradling her Bible—reciting, not reading—page after page. It reminded me of the old prophet Jeremiah, who wrote, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.” (Jeremiah 15:16)

But this is not about my grandmother or me. It’s about you and what you do with the words you’ll hear or use in these last days of the school year and after you’ve left Gordon to follow God’s call on your life in fresh directions. Being part of Gordon means we are people of our word. We keep our commitments. We guard our speech. We use words to build, not to tear down. We learn to listen, not just speak.

Remember the privilege and responsibility that you bear His Name and have within easy reach the Word of God. I challenge you to take words with you. Words that heal and reconcile. Words that challenge people to think. Words that infect the world you’re in with love and joy and peace. Words filled with hope. It won’t be easy, but it will be easier when you remember to fill up on God’s Word.

Eugene Peterson writes in THE MESSAGE his paraphrase of Colossians 3:16: “Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of
the way.”

Words matter. God’s and yours.

Jan Carlberg is the author of The Hungry Heart and The Welcome Song: And Other Stories from a Place Called Home, and speaks at conferences, churches and colleges across the country. She has served as a director of women’s ministries, community Bible study teacher, assistant chaplain at Gordon, and has served on the board of Vision New England.

An open letter to graduating seniors published in Vox Populi, a Gordon student publication, May 2008.

NEXT: The Local and Liberal Arts