Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: words

Write Stuff Wednesday 10

typewriter-1170657_960_720“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21

Writers may not speak the words, but what we type can go places our spoken words may never reach.  Our tongues are our keyboards. And I doubt there is a writer among us who doesn’t love words. If we don’t, we may want to rethink our chosen career paths. If we ever doubted it, words, our words have power.  This is true whether those words are written or spoken.

During a particularly difficult circumstance in my life, I received a text about a possible negative development in the situation. My body reacted immediately. Anxious feelings began to creep in. I felt sick. My phone screen lit up with a few simple lines of written word, and I felt defeated.

Written words were also what shook me from a life of relative security and plunged me into a place of pain and doubt during the most challenging time in my life. For months after reading a fairly short letter from a loved one, I struggled to control my fear that the other shoe was ready to drop on my at any moment, knocking me further away from what little security I had left.

But even as words threatened my well-being and changed my life, they were also there to hold me up. I found strength and peace in the middle of the mess. And while scripture was a source of life for me at the time, it wasn’t the only thing God used to encourage me. As I sought moments of respite from what had become my day to day life, I turned to Christian fiction.  I was surprised to find understanding. Some books broke down my walls and drew the hurt out from deep inside. Others empathized with my plight and pointed me to truths my mind was too tired to accept any other way.

The stories I read were amazing gifts. These written words worked to restore some of what I’d lost and point me to the One who could provide complete restoration.  Words had done a tremendous amount of damage, and words helped make it right again.

This is why it is important for writers, especially writers of faith, to choose their words carefully. Our fiction and non-fiction alike should be filled with the truth. Sometimes that truth is hard. In those times, we should take care to say what we say in love and with grace and mercy.  Truth doesn’t have to be compromised to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. People are sensitive creatures. We don’t ever like being told we’re in the wrong. But we can and should be careful that our attitudes are based in love. When we approach others with understanding and love, even a difficult message can hit its mark.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing sweet love stories or murder mysteries. Words that bring life can be sewn into the fabric of each one. Even fantasy worlds brought to life only by the author’s imagination can leave a reader with a deeper understanding of God. As writers, as lovers of words, we should strive to share life through what we write.

By the Book: What books have you found life in? As a writer, do you share life with your readers?

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Write Stuff Wednesday 7

roses-2840743_960_720“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” C. S. Lewis

When I type the word smile and search for synonyms, I get six different options. If I do an internet search, one website gives me twelve. Though I have to be honest, I don’t really consider some of their choices exact synonyms.

Our language is full of variations for individual words, and an author has to be careful to choose their words wisely.

He leered at her.

It sounds bad. I wouldn’t want to be the object of his look. Is he a stalker? Is he planning an attack? I don’t really want to find out.

He smirked at her.

It’s a little less bad. He’s probably a little arrogant, and she probably just said something he found less than worthy. If she sees it, the look is likely to do one of two things. It could embarrass her. It could also make her angry if she doesn’t believe he’s everything he thinks he is.

He grinned at her.

Without any other context, this could be good or bad. But for the most part, we see a grin as a good thing. It’s playful, happy, and friendly. Maybe she just said something funny. Or maybe he’s shy and the grin is how he’s trying to show that he likes her.

All three are very different sentences, but all three words are included in the list of synonyms for smile. It’s the author’s job to know which one will best fit their story and avoid giving the reader the wrong ideas.  The word or phrase has to fit the specific action and the intensity of the scene.

Choosing the wrong word can be damaging to the story you want to tell, but choosing an overused word or phrase can be just as harmful. When a word or phrase has been used to the point of becoming cliché it loses its power. At that point, your message is worse than lost. It’s boring.

Have you ever heard a small child trying to learn the art of telling jokes? We laugh politely at first wanting to encourage them. They know they’re on the right track without understanding why. So, they continue telling the exact same joke the exact same way. Even if their experience was more organically arrived at, by making the right face at the right time or inserting an unexpected phrase into the conversation, they only understand that it brought laughter. And they keep doing it. It works for a little while. Then, the laughter stops, and they don’t understand why it isn’t funny anymore.

This is the clichéd word or phrase in our writing. It stops carrying its original weight because we’ve overused it, stripping it of its depth of meaning. As writers, we’re warned away from these powerless words.  Meaning can be restored over time, but only if the words are used correctly and sparingly.

The results of overuse reach far beyond the world of writers. Consider the word love. We have several types of love. There’s brotherly love, unconditional love, and passionate love. These three are used in scripture. In the original language they were distinct words. Yet when we translated them we had no better synonyms than love for each one. Only in looking at the context and at times a concordance can we find the intended meaning.

But it gets worse. We throw love around for everything from our latest crush to the new cupcake flavor at our local bakery. As it’s lost some of its depth, the word has come to symbolize nothing more than a feeling of want and liking. Maybe that’s why we’ve forgotten love isn’t always about making someone feel good. Sometimes, love has to take the tough path because real love, scriptural love is choosing to act in the best interests of someone else even if it isn’t easy for the one loving or the one being loved.

When Jesus pushed the rich young ruler to take a look at his allegiance to his fortune, he went away sad. He couldn’t accept Jesus’ requirement. Does that mean Jesus wasn’t loving him? Not at all. He was doing the most loving thing in pointing out what kept the man from truly following God. Even though it was hard to see, it was love that kept God from removing Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Through his struggle, Paul was able to learn to keep his focus on God and to trust in Him instead of relying on his own abilities. It was more loving for God to allow the suffering and work to grow Paul through it than for it to be removed. If removed Paul would face the temptation to put himself in God’s place as he saw his accomplishments as his own instead of God’s. God doesn’t take joy in our suffering, but He takes great joy when we allow Him to work in our suffering to make us more like Him.

Churches speak of love regularly, but the word has been watered down even in the pews. It’s time for believers to reclaim the meaning. It’s time for the church to live love like Jesus did. It’s time those who claim God in their lives begin loving not only in theory but in truth. Love should drive our actions and attitudes. When we do the hard things it should be for the best of others and in ways that leave those who are struggling to accept the truth feeling God’s love instead of feeling alone. When we do the easy things of love, it should be for God and those He loves instead of to make a name for ourselves.

By the Book: What does love mean to you? How can you help give love back its power?roses-2840743_960_720

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Write Stuff Wednesday

quill

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary. How potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

 

Think of the most influential book you’ve ever read. It could be non-fiction, but often, fictional works are just as powerful in their ability to impact readers. Disguised as entertainment, the fiction author’s message comes in a user friendly package. The trappings of the story invite us into worlds created especially for the story. We are introduced to characters we relate to or despise depending on their purpose. We are drawn in, and when we’ve become fully immersed in the story, the message takes on meaning we might have otherwise tuned out.  Truths about life, love, and even faith are sweetened with the sugar of realistic characters and intriguing plot lines, and we swallow them down without the battle that would otherwise ensue if the points were blatantly shoved down our throats.

It’s not that we’re ignorant to what is happening. We aren’t powerless to stop it or tricked into accepting an idea we don’t agree with. We’re being shown a picture and left to determine how it is going to affect us. Sometimes the impact is in the characters. We see a belief or quality in them that we hunger to have in ourselves, and we come away looking for ways to embrace it in our own lives. Other times it’s the theme of the story that speaks to us and leaves us challenged to grow in ways we haven’t considered or possibly fought against.

The words of a writer can be powerful. They can confuse or enlighten. They can challenge or convince us there isn’t a reason to try. Understanding this is essential for writers, especially for those who are choosing to infuse their faith into their writing. We have a responsibility that other writers don’t necessarily share. We become teachers as we let our writing become an outgrowth of our faith. James 3:1 cautions that those who teach others should be careful because they will be judged more strictly. It’s not said to scare us away from sharing the things God has shown us. Instead, it is to safeguard the gospel from those who would treat it lightly and then go on to share those twisted teachings as truth to others leading them down a dangerous path.

But maybe you don’t write or teach. Your words are still powerful. Proverbs 18:21 says that death and life can be found in our words. Ephesians has a command for all believers to keep away from corrupting talk and only speak those things that would be good to build others up. James talks about the power of the tongue and the difficulty we face in trying to keep it under control. There are several verses worthy of being highlighted, but I think Matthew 15:18 gives us the perfect verse to consider. And it doesn’t have to do with the results of our words but where they come from in the first place. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles the person.”

By the Book: Based on your words, what is in your heart?

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