It’s November, which in the writing world means it’s also National Novel Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo, and because of this, I’ve been beating myself up about my lack of commitment to novel writing. It just hasn’t been a priority, even though I say I want it to be. Other writing work seems to always come first. And I feel bad. So bad I want to throw in the proverbial towel when it comes to writing.
But one of my dreams is to write and publish books. Some days that seems within reach; other days it’s far-fetched.
And while that would be an amazing accomplishment, it isn’t the most important thing I’ll ever do with words.
Neither is blogging. Or writing articles or curriculum or anything else I think is a priority.
So, if the most important words I’ll ever write aren’t among those pursuits, what are they?
I sat on the front porch, on a mild fall day, as the kids played around me, writing words in cards. I’ve become a negligent card writer (I’ve told you the one about the birthday card sitting on my desk for two years, unsigned and unsent, haven’t I?) but this needed to be done. I wrote of my sorrow over loss, of shared grief and hopeful expectation. Nothing poetic. Simple words. Not nearly enough to describe what I was feeling.
That day, I set aside all the blogging, all the novel writing, all the Facebook posts I wanted to write for the “world” to read and I penned words for an audience of one, or two, or a few.
And I remembered the power of words. How the right ones can effect change, bring healing and incubate hope.
I’ve written a lot of words in my life. Eight years of working for daily newspapers will do that for you. And while the words I wrote for those stories all those years did have an impact on people and communities, I still don’t consider them the most important work I’ve ever done.
The most important words I’ve written or spoken, few people have seen. And I thought about sharing them here with you, but I’m afraid they’ll lose their significance if I broadcast them. And the most important words I write or speak will not be the same as the ones you write or speak.
But here’s how I know which ones have been most important: they are words I didn’t agonize over to make sure they were “right.” They were spoken from the heart, out of a desire to help and serve, and they gained me nothing I could see or touch. No money. No fame. No prestige. No awards.
They are words like “I’m sorry,” and “You’re a treasure” and “I love you, just the way you are.”
“I believe you can do it.”
“You are special.”
Words of invitation and inclusion, truth in the midst of lies, forgiveness and grace.
These words I write now, they’ll soon be forgotten. And should I ever write a book that finds itself on bookshelves, its impact will be limited and temporary. And while I believe the words in the Bible are meaningful and powerful and important, I believe the words we speak to each other have their own kind of power. Proverbs tells us that the tongue has the power of life and death.
Of all the words spoken or written, the ones we share with the smallest of audiences are often the most powerful and memorable. For better or worse.
I sat in a restaurant last week listening as a mother berated and criticized two teenage girls with her the entire time they were in the restaurant. Her tone was critical. Her words hurtful. And though the girls seemed immune to her tongue-lashing, I knew the words would eventually settle into their spirits.
I wanted to tell them they were precious. Loved. Treasured. I wanted them to hear words of hope and grace.
But I chickened out. I was afraid it wasn’t my place, although it was a public place and the older woman was drawing attention.
And I was convicted. That sometimes the words I speak are not kind or life-giving.
Will you resolve with me to change? To speak and write words of life, even if they’re only to one other person and no one else sees or hears?
Words are my life.
But no words are more important than these mostly unseen words of encouragement and hope.
And when I think that my words don’t matter or won’t make a difference, I’ll think of the three times when they did.