“If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.” –Chinese proverb
These days, I’m swimming – often drowning – in a sea of words. With songwriting appointments nearly every day, the constant composing of social media posts and blogs, and the endless crafting of emails and text messages, I’m always thinking about how to use words wisely. After a particularly stressful “word” day, I dream about frantically arranging words into lines of lyric or emails. Yikes! Can anyone relate?
I am both in awe of and intimidated by words because I know their power. I couldn’t live without using or hearing them. Others use their words to let me know they’re present. My iPhone apps speak words that give me directions to where I’m going, tell me the denominations of cash I’m holding, and alert me to how many faces are in my camera shot. I’ve been inspired by the words of complete strangers who share their stories, and disappointed by words of “sorry but no thanks” in more than one email. As a songwriter, I get to pour words of hope, courage, and love into the lives of complete strangers through my lyrics, but that gift reminds me I am responsible for the words I put out in the world. Recently, I learned an even bigger lesson about the power of words. Not only do the words I use affect those around me, but they also deeply impact my soul.
One of my worst habits is choosing negative words when I speak to myself–and when I speak about myself to others. In effect, I curse at myself. I say things like, “Why are you so stupid?” “Why can’t you be more like so-and-so?” “Don’t you know no one will love you if you’re not on your game?” You get the idea.
I’m also a reckless apologizer. I say “I’m sorry” in nearly every situation, and when I realize I’ve apologized too much, I say “I’m sorry” again. I recently decided to get serious about kicking the “I’m sorry” habit and my friend Andrew suggested I replace “I’m sorry” with “Thank you.” I’m not out of the woods yet, but this word exchange is working remarkably well. It helps me stop thinking of myself and focus on whoever else is in the room, showing gratitude towards them.
This little experiment got me thinking. Many of us speak negatively to ourselves. And many of us have tried to kick the habit but have failed. In order to conquer our negative words, we must replace them with positive ones, which sounds simple enough. But it isn’t because we only know all the negative phrases; we’ve used them for years. But how do we learn the positive ones?
As a Christian, I think about switching negative words for positive ones as replacing lies from the Enemy with the truth of God! And in order to know the truth of God, I have to do more than just read it on Sunday morning or on Facebook. I have to wrap myself in it –meditate on it and memorize it. It requires work on my part. But it’s time well-spent.
For me, learning to use positive words has meant incorporating two new practices into my life. Every morning, instead of just prayer, reading, and coffee, I spend time with the words I’m reading by meditating on them. (Does that word make anyone else squirm?) I recently read Tim Keller’s book Prayer, which helped me get my head around the process of meditation. I’ve also begun memorizing a Scripture verse each week. When my memory gets stronger, I plan to memorize great quotes too, but one step at a time.
In meditation and memorization, I have found that God’s words to us and about us are unbelievably powerful! Just listen to these:
“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:13)
“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph. 3:17)
“Look at the birds. They don’t need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your Heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to Him than they are . . . And why worry about your clothes? Look at the lilies and how they grow . . . And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you?”
(Mat. 6:26, 28, 30)
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Rom. 12:12)
Sitting with these words has made a dramatic difference in my brain. I now have an arsenal of words of Truth to combat the negative lies my heart has believed. I encourage you to surround yourself with words of Truth too! And if you already have an arsenal of your own, I’d love to know some of your favorites.
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Phil. 4:8, NLT)