Welcome to the online home of Timothy Willard, writer, author, speaker, and storyteller.

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Why Your Words Matter

Why Your Words Matter

I’ve been listening.

Waiting. Wondering about the logos—the Word. You know, like we read in John’s gospel account.

“In the beginning, was the logos.” And that logos became flesh, and his name was Jesus.

In the story of the Bible, “words” hold a special place. Not only was Jesus called “word” but he was also present at the creation event.

In the climactic opening scene we find God speaking words, and light appears.

Maximus the Confessor (an early church father) believed that when God created the world little “logoses” filled the earth. They contained human potential and capacity and related to imagination and wonder.

Almost like when God spoke his words burst into billions and billions of pieces and filled up our reality. Perhaps this is part of the “fullness” Charles Taylor speaks about, this kind of sense we experience in our daily lives when we encounter something beautiful.

All of this wondering about the logos got me thinking about my own words.

Do my words contribute to a kind of creation in the lives of other people?

Do they explode into millions of pieces and fill up the hearts of my family?

Do they possess a kind of reverence, a set-apartness, like God’s?

Words Last and Remind Us of our Past

A few weekends ago I was organizing my personal archives and found a treasure trove of letters. Remember those?

My eleven year old daughter found me squatting on the garage floor reading letters from old friends.

“Daddy these are wonderful.” she said. “Are these letters from friends?” She couldn’t believe her eyes.

“Yes, they are.”

“You have to keep these!”

And, I will. I do. I keep words. I fold up notes written from long ago and jam them into my books so that I can find them later on when I’m thumbing through the volume. That’s right, I plant little written surprises for myself in my personal library.

Those notes, those words contain my past—quite literally. They remind me of moments, beautiful encounters, sad endings, and joyous epiphanies.

The words contained in those letters mean something to me because they were written by people I care about.

Words Possess Meaning and Value

At least, they used to.

And how I use my words matters.

Think about how words work in our society.

Our words tell stories that connect us. And those stories become the context that defines our existence.

Words fire up our imaginations and makes us feel more alive.

When you read your favorite novel or essay or collection of poems, you’re entering the imagination of someone else, communicated through words, absorbed into your imagination and ending with the wonderful experience of having your joy expanded.

Paul Holmer, the late professor of theology at Yale University, says literature adds to reality, it does not merely describe it. Words connect us to characters; to their passions, desires, motives, and wishes.

When you and I connect with the characters in this way, we become better equipped for all that life throws at us.

Literature, he says, “irrigates the deserts our lives have already become.”

Words Are Dying

C.S. Lewis wrote an article for The Spectator in 1944 titled “The Death of Words.” In it he observes how words, over time, slowly die as they move from being used to describe something, to being used to place blame or extend praise.

“The truth,” he writes, “is that words originally descriptive tend to become terms either of mere praise or of mere blame.” One of the words he uses to illustrate his point is the word “Christian.”

He says that the term is slowly becoming a synonym for “good” rather than an adjective (or noun) used to describe a person who believes Jesus is the son of the living God and therefore follows his teachings.

My wife tells me she hears this down here in the south. “He’s a good ole Christian boy.” The word “Christian” being a synonym for good, rather than identifying someone as an ardent follower of Jesus.

We are seeing the slow death of words, he says, because they no longer retain their truth. Lewis says when you and I start attaching “true” or “real” to words, that’s a sure sign it is on its way to the graveyard.

I believe our constant hyperbolic rhetoric, on blogs, in the news, and other avenues of public discourse contributes to the dimming of words. Have you noticed how everything all the time is FANTASTIC, or INSANE, or BEAUTIFUL, or LOVELY, or AMAZING.

With everything so amazing, is anything truly wonderful?

We kill words by reducing them to how we want to use them, and we murder them by overusing them.

I think the evil villain in The Incredibles (part 1) said it best: “When everyone is incredible {diabolical laugh} no one will be.”

Weaponizing Our Words

Words contain the power to create and destroy.

Some say that the “image,” in our post-literate society, is the new word.

I believe the rise of our image driven society reveals how stupid and self-centered we’ve become as a society.

The letters I discovered in my garage were connections and inquiries between me and other human beings. They represented a real dialogue between engaged and reverent participants.

We don’t know what dialogue is anymore.

We’ve turned into a society of monologuers believing that everyone wants to hear our point of view. Or that social platforms give us permission to use our words in any way that proves our point.

We use words like weapons against people who represent different points of view. We vilify people with our words. If you don’t believe me, search the Internet and social media platforms and check out what some people said about the closing of all of LifeWay bookstores.

The Church, it turns out, can be the harshest of all with our words.

We batter each other in the name of public accountability, in the name of activism.

We tear ourselves to shreds and wonder why the world mocks the Church.

Does God care about our words?

I wonder.

The Psalmist writes, “Let the words of my mouth, be pleasing to you. The meditation of my heart, be pleasing to you. Oh Lord my strength and my redeemer.”

The Apostle Paul reminds us to meditate on whatever is true and pure and lovely and worthy. Think on these things. Why?

Because from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

We live in a dry and weary land, where there is no water—no life giving words.

You and I face a world desperate for words soaked in heaven. Will we fill up the earth with our own little logoses? Or will we contribute to the graveyard of words with our own dim utterances.

I wonder.


Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

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