Words! Words! Words!

Rev. Matt W. Leach teaches on the power of our words and how we often cause problems and misunderstandings with the things we say.

“My Fair Lady”* was a popular Broadway musical. In one of the scenes, Eliza Doolittle is on a date with her boyfriend, Freddy Eynsford Hill.  It was a perfect night. The moon was full and romantic. Freddy starts to sing a song. Eliza is frustrated by this and interrupts him, telling him to stop talking about love and show it instead.

It is easy to sympathize with Eliza. Freddy is in love with the feeling.  Eliza wants action. Like Freddy, we get hung up on words. We say one thing and mean another. We don’t get our feelings and our words working together.

You Said What?

The same words can mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another.

A little girl was heard to say that a person must be brave these days to go to church.

“Why do you say that?” she was asked.

“Oh,”’ replied the child, “I heard Papa tell Mamma that last Sunday there was a big gun in the pulpit, the choir murdered the anthem, and the organist drowned the choir.”

Misusing words and misunderstanding what is meant by the words we use is the source of much conflict, confusion, and problems. Consider this exchange of words.

“Look at that bunch of cows!”

“Not bunch, herd.”

“Heard what?”

“Herd of cows.”

“Sure, I’ve heard of cows.”

“I mean a cowherd.”

“What do I care if a cow heard?  I didn’t say anything I shouldn’t have.”

Too often our words mean nothing because we’ve robbed them of meaning. If we have fallen into the habit of always being sarcastic, saying one thing and meaning another, it affects our hearing. We will not hear clearly or accurately what another person is saying to us.  It becomes hard for us to believe that someone really does mean what they say. How often has someone said to you, “But I thought you meant …..!” All too often that is how we treat the Bible.

As Clear as Mud

Here is a story that was given to us in a class I attended. It illustrates the importance of saying exactly what we mean and meaning exactly what we say.  The story goes like this:

Jane hadn’t seen Tom since they taught together at School. When Jane found that she would be attending a conference in Tom’s city, she wrote to ask if she could visit them.  Tom and his wife, Marge, whom Jane had never met, invited her to stay with them for the three days of the conference.  

After dinner the first night, Jane was the one who suggested that they clean up the dishes so they could settle down for an evening of talk. She was feeling warm and friendly to both Tom and his wife, and so grateful for their hospitality that she wanted to show them her gratitude in some way.

As Jane began carrying the dishes to the kitchen, Marge and Tom at first protested but when she continued cleaning up they began to help. In the kitchen, Jane took over only allowing Marge and Tom to help in little ways and to tell her where to find or store things.

When they had finished in the kitchen, Jane commented, “There now, that didn’t take long and everything’s spic and span.”  Marge responded, “It was very helpful of you, thank you.”

When Tom and Marge were preparing for bed later that evening, Tom was startled to hear Marge burst out with, “I was so humiliated, I just resent her so much I can hardly stand it.”  “You mean Jane? What did she do that upset you so?’

“The way she took over. She’s certainly a pushy, dominating person. To come into my home as a visitor and then the moment dinner is over she organizes the whole clean-up. It’s easy to tell that she thinks I’m not a very good housekeeper. At first, I felt inadequate and then I felt angry. I’ll keep house any way I like. Who is she to show me up? After all, she’s a guest and you’d think she’d be grateful for our putting her up.”

“Aw, c’mon, Marge. Jane was just trying to be helpful.”

“Well, it wasn’t helpful. It was humiliating. It’s going to be hard for me to be nice to her for three days.”

A Misunderstanding

What happened? What went wrong between Jane and Marge? Let’s start with Jane. How was Jane feeling?

Jane was feeling full of gratitude to Tom and Marge. What Jane wanted to do, was show them that she was grateful to them. This was a really good intention. Jane was saying, “I want them to know I like them and am grateful to them.”

What was the action Jane took to show this? She initiates and organizes the kitchen clean-up. That sounds like a really good way to demonstrate gratitude.

But what was the effect on Marge? That is the catch. Marge didn’t know how Jane felt. It is easy for us to say that Jane should have spoken up, told Tom and Marge exactly how grateful she felt, and asked them to please let her help. It is easy to say that. But look at your own life. Do you always say how you feel? How many times have you gone ahead and done things only to find that you were misunderstood and wrongly accused?

Look at what happened. Marge didn’t know how Jane felt because Jane didn’t say anything. All that Marge knew was that she saw Jane taking over. Well, what does it mean when someone moves in and takes over? It means you aren’t doing good enough. Marge interpreted Jane’s intentions and Jane herself as being pushy, looking down on Jane’s housekeeping.

Making Mountains Out of Molehills

We humans have a way of complicating our troubles. Nothing is ever simple. We see this by what happens next in our story. Marge was trying to be a good hostess, so Marge didn’t want Jane to know that she felt inadequate and resented Jane. We’re just like that. We don’t want people to know how we really feel.  

I’m reminded of the husband who was totally confused by his wife’s actions. He came home and noticed that his wife seemed upset about something. So he asked her: “What’s wrong, honey?”

“Oh, nothing,” she replied.

So the husband shrugged his shoulders and went in to watch the game on T.V. Whereupon his wife burst out in tears: “You don’t care how I feel at all!” and slams the door. How many times have you been guilty of playing that little guessing game?

In front of Jane, Marge put on her little act because “I don’t want her to know I feel inadequate and that I resent her.” While in the bedroom, Marge fussed and fumed.

To hide her real feelings, Marge says to Jane, “Thank you. It was helpful of you.”  She smiles sweetly – even fools her husband. While all the time she’s thinking, “I’d like to stick you with a red-hot-knife!”

How does Jane react to Marge’s sweet words, “Thank you, it was helpful of you.” When Jane hears these words she thinks, “She knows I am grateful. She appreciates my gesture.”

What is the result of this exchange of words? Simple – Jane is going to go right on making Marge mad by doing the very things Marge keeps thanking her for.

I’m reminded of a little game I played in the Dentist’s office.  He says, “This doesn’t look very deep. I don’t think you will need Novocain.”

He sticks the drill in my mouth – which looks more like one of those jackhammers they use to break up concrete, and then whammy!  He hits the old nerve broadside. I rise three feet out of the chair in intense agony, and he asks, “Did that hurt?” And I say, “No!”

The Importance of Our Words

I hope Jane and Marge’s story has helped you to understand how important it is to get our words and feelings together . . . To say exactly what we mean, and mean exactly what we say, we need to stop playing word games with each other. We need to make openness and honesty with words a way of life.

I remember reading about a little boy who had been given a jar of candy. His mother thought he ought to share it with his brothers and sisters. He refused to share it. This upset his mother, who forcefully took the jar of candy from him, and gave it to his brothers and sisters. The little boy was heartbroken,

His mother had looked at things from her own point of view. She did not tell her little boy why she wanted him to share the candy. All she did was get mad when he said no. She assumed that he was being very selfish,

What the mother didn’t know, and what she didn’t bother to find out, was that the little boy wanted to take that jar of candy to school and share it with his friends. He wasn’t selfish after all. He was going to share. His mother was angry with him and she didn’t have any reason to be angry. No wonder his little heart was broken.

If this mother had been open and honest about her feelings – and if she had been willing to listen to how her little boy felt, she would never have gotten angry. Instead, she would have discovered that she had good reason to be proud of her son.

Mean What You Say

Now that I’ve come to the end of my message I’ll tell you what this message has been all about! I wanted you to become aware of the word games we play with each other. I wanted you to see how important it is for us to learn to say what we mean and mean what we say. Only if we do that will we begin to understand what God is saying.  

You see, God says what he means, and means what he says. God does not play word games with us. Words are of the utmost importance to God. Peter writes, “Long ago by God’s WORD the heavens existed, and the earth was formed (2 Peter 3:5).” Jesus tells us that words can make us unclean: “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean,’ (Mt. 15:11).”  “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'” (Mt, 15:18).

John tells us that God’s WORD became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus Christ. He also says that by that WORD all things were created. You and I are made in the image of God. What God is, we are. Our words also create. What are you creating with your words? Are you using words to create good through you? Or are you allowing the way you use words, or don’t use words, to create evil, misunderstanding, hurt, and brokenness? There is power in your tongue – how are you using it?

Use it right, and expect others to say what they mean, and mean what they say, and you will begin to believe and know that God means everything He says in the Bible. If we are confused by God’s Word and God’s promises it is because we bring the confusion with us. God’s Word is clear and plain. God means exactly what He says. Do you?

*My Fair Lady is owned by Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.

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