The overflow of the heart

“…on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak..”

Matthew 12:36

Well, didn’t that just stop me in my tracks this morning? I got up, brewed my tea, made my smoothie, and sat down to my Bible study thinking, “It sure would be nice to blog this morning…” I usually read my Bible study first, you know, so I don’t go off all half-cocked spouting nonsense as I have been wont to do.  I try to ground myself in Scripture before I let my fingers fly, hoping that they will be directed toward His purposes, at least a little bit.

But didn’t He just step into my process and say, “Well, you know, not many people can speak about careless words quite as authentically as you can, dear.” Oy.

Ok, ok, I admit it.  I have spoken a few careless words. Ok, fine.  I’ve spoken a few careless words every time I have opened my mouth. I just love to hear myself talk, apparently.  So things just fly out of me!  All kinds of things.  Careless things.  They fly out of my mouth so quickly I sometimes surprise myself.  When I say, “did I just say that out loud?” I really am asking out of disbelief.  I shock myself.

Sure, sure, over the years, through some very difficult ‘learning opportunities’ I have acquired an ability to filter.  Sometimes.  But often, a thought pops into my head and out of my mouth before I even know what happened.  I have tried and tried and tried to control my tongue.  But here’s the thing.  The problem isn’t with my tongue.  It’s with my heart.

Matthew asks, “How can you speak good, when you are evil?  For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Have you ever met someone who truly has a pure heart?  I actually have.  Perhaps you know someone like this.  They have something kind to say about everyone, in every situation.  And, guys, they aren’t being fake.  They really mean it!  They have compassion, understanding, patience, and true humility in their hearts. So, when they open their mouths, the words that come out are compassionate, kind, understanding, patient, and humble.

If you listen carefully to my words, you will occasionally hear kindness and sometimes compassion, but often what you will hear is judgment, cynicism, distrust, and impatience.  Our mouths reveal us for who we really are!  And, in my case, it can be downright embarrassing!  I really want to think the best of people.  I really want to be encouraging, but I look at a situation, toss it around with what is inside my heart, and out of my mouth comes what I am thinking.

So, what can I do? There is only one solution — a heart transplant.  Or at least reconstructive surgery.  God has been in the business of remodeling my heart for going on fifty years.  He’s done some miraculous work, actually.  That’s why I am, at times, able to open my mouth and offer encouraging, compassionate, and thankful words.  However, the full remodel won’t be done for quite some time, and occasionally I get trapped in one of the back rooms that haven’t been touched yet.  If you try to talk to me when I’m in there, I’m likely to spout frustration, anger, and even hate. It ain’t pretty.

I’ve got to learn not to walk into those areas alone.  When I go alone, all I can see are the problems — the holes in the wall, the stained carpets, the mold, and the broken windows.  But, when the Designer comes with me, He shows me all the work that He’s already done — He’s poured a new foundation, He’s demolished strongholds, He’s got a plan.  When He comes with me, all that frustration, anger, and hate melt away.  All I can see is His goodness and compassion — His ability to rebuild what was once deemed condemned.

At those moments, my heart is full of hope, love, and understanding; when I see the transformative power He has had in my life, I am able to humbly speak that transformative power into the lives of others.  However, when I wander off on my own, my heart gets full of fear, anger, and resentment.  And in those moments, if I’m careless enough to open my mouth, I’m likely to regret it.

Sounds like a simple problem to fix, doesn’t it?  Remind me of that later today when you hear me say something careless, will you?

The Word of my Friend

Did you ever feel like God was trying to send you a message?  At every turn you see the same words, almost as though they were written on billboards specifically for you? Perhaps since I have been blogging, I notice this a little bit more easily than I ever have.

On April 13th I posted a blog called “The Power of Words” in which I considered the effects — both positive and negative — of my words on others.   Then, on April 22 I posted a blog called “The Power of Fewer Words” in which I discussed my challenge to say less and listen more.  It may come as no surprise to those who know me that the kind of words and the number of words that come out of my mouth have been a life-long challenge.

Way back in the fall some new friends invited me to attend a conference for Lutheran pastors’ wives.  They gave me a post card with the theme of the conference written on it, “The Word with Friends”.  The logo is a wordle (see featured image); I love Wordles!  I love words — I am a writer, an English teacher, a Words with Friends addict, and a bibliophile. My friends didn’t have to twist my arm to convince to come to this conference.  I put the dates on my calendar, paid the registration fee, and waited for the weekend to arrive.

Well, two days after I wrote the second blog mentioned above, I was walking into the conference at a hotel in Bay City.  The tables were set with Scrabble boards as centerpieces complete with chocolate Scrabble tiles!  The opening games were all word games — fill in the blank, word scrambles, hinky pinky, and the like. We were even sorted into groups by drawing Scrabble tiles from a bag.  I was having so much fun!!!  Words and letters everywhere!!

The next morning, I woke, ate breakfast, and joined a table of women for the first of four Bible study sessions — The Power of Words, The Lack of Words, Hidden Words, and Impress these Words.  Probably the biggest take away for me came in our last session on Sunday morning.  We were studying James 1:19-26.  Though we had been talking about words all weekend, this chunk included all the gems that God has been teaching me through the last few weeks: be quick to hear, slow to speak; be doers of the word, and not hearers only; bridle your tongue; and most importantly for me, I think, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 

And really, if I am going to be honest, that is the lesson that I have been learning since I started this blog back in July — God’s Word is powerful and able to save my soul.  Although I have made many changes since last year at this time — new home, new city, new church, new friends, new blog, new work life — the most impactful change has been reconnecting with the discipline of daily Bible study.  I didn’t set out to make that change — it just kind of happened.  My friend invited me to a Bible study.  The Bible study required daily preparation.  I am a good student, so I complied.

But here’s the thing — daily connection with God’s word has breathed life into me.  It has poured truth into my heart.  It has changed my thinking.  It has slowed me down.  It has allowed me to examine my thoughts, actions, and motives.  It has brought me joy.

On Sunday morning, our Bible study leader gave us all a small can of Play-doh.  She encouraged us to make shapes to remind us of the lessons we had learned.  We made a face with a closed mouth and extra large ears to remind us to respect the ratio of one mouth to two ears.  We made a hand to remind us to be doers of the word.   We made a face with a tongue sticking out to remind us to bridle our tongue.  And, we made a flower to remind us that God’s implanted word will bear fruit.

Words are a part of every day of my life.  I read, I write, I edit, I teach writing, and I now teach reading.  I must encounter thousands, even tens of thousands, of words every single day.  But here’s the thing — most of those words do not have a lasting impact on my life.  Sure, there are stories that I love to read over and over again.  There are poems and songs that make my heart sing.  My blog allows me to bring order to the chaos in my brain.  But only the Words of God have the power to save my soul.

Hebrews 4:12

For the Word of God is living and active.

Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow;

it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.