Words. These abstract things wield such power. They can be used to tear down or to lift up. They help us to share information and to connect us to one another in friendships.
Words are both easy and hard for me. I can take pen to paper and create a beautiful sentence. Some may even believe it to be eloquent and meaningful. And sometimes it is. Sometimes, words allow me to express the depth of my soul. But other times I hide behind my words, forming a boundary that only the most perceptive observer would notice. Sometimes the words are nothing but a house of cards. Pretty things one says so much that they begin to believe they are real. But underneath is just emptiness.
I think we do this with our sacred language sometimes. We become so accustomed to how we talk about God within our own religious community that sometimes the language almost becomes the God. And when we are questioned by others who don’t speak the same language, we find ourselves stymied to explain ourselves. And suddenly, the house of cards comes crumbling down. I’m not saying that there’s nothing underneath. For me at least, I know that I have encountered Jesus, that I want to follow Him.
It’s just that the words sometimes do more harm than good, getting in the way of our truly encountering God and one another. We have canned responses for when people ask “How are you?” making sure to acknowledge God’s goodness in the midst of all circumstances we find ourselves in. Or we can make sure to remind someone struggling that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” (an untrue phrase as I believe God will give us more than we can handle so that we learn to rely on him) or “Everything happens for a reason” (we know how well that type of response went over with Job).
I know these are said with good intentions, but sometimes, they feel like fluff, no substance underneath. And instead of helping us to grow closer to one another and God by truly connecting, it allows us to keep others at arms length. These words can be a shield to keep people from seeing the person underneath. When others do this to me, my heart breaks because I long to see them, really see them. I don’t know for sure why others do it, but for me, I think I’m too afraid to really look underneath my personal house of cards. Because if I did, I’d have to admit the ways that I fall short or fail to honor God in my thoughts, words or deeds. And I’d have to admit that sometimes I question God’s goodness and sovereignty. And maybe it’s the same for others?