Words are powerful things. They can shape us in ways we don’t begin to understand.
From childhood I’ve always loved words, for the sheer sound of them. I’d savor them on my tongue and in my mind, sometimes without even knowing their meaning. I was hungry to learn their meanings but sometimes I simply guessed at it from the way a word sounded to me. Needless to say, I was eager to learn new ones to add to my repertoire. One of my favorite words, for instance, was sycamore before I ever met a sycamore tree.
But there have been a very few words that have had an especially deep resonance for me. The first one broke open inside me when I was in the third grade. I remember it vividly. I loved riding my bike and on this day I was riding home after school. It was summer, one of those special summer days when the sun is hot on your skin and at the same time the air is cool and soothing. As I turned into our driveway, I stopped midway, stood for a minute hearing the sounds of the family inside drifting out through the open windows, the faint clinking of dishes being set out for supper, muted voices talking. I felt the hot sun and cool breeze simultaneously on my skin. And suddenly a deep, piercing feeling swept through me as silent words rose inside expressing something I didn’t know I felt: these words, “I want to go home.”
The word “HOME” swept through me with an intense feeling of longing, a deep yearning for something I didn’t have but hungered for. I didn’t know where that sentence came from or what that word meant but I knew it wasn’t this home, this little brick ranch house where we lived and from which the homely sounds were coming. For decades after that, as I grew up and the places where I lived changed, the words would rise up in me at unexpected times, and the one word that was the heart of that simple sentence, the one beautiful word, haunted me ever after: HOME.
The second word that came to be special to me began to sound inside me when I was a bit older. It was “INTEGRITY.” It didn’t hit me with explosive force as my first beautiful word had done, but it kept coming up to me and did exert a kind of pull. I didn’t really understand what it meant, but I knew I wanted it and that I didn’t have it. Not then. This word didn’t fill me with the deep yearning that was expressed in “home,” but it did call to me, and as I pondered it, trying to understand what it meant, it took on the shape of a desire. It became a value I wanted to live out in my life, and it set me on a course to understand better what it means to live with integrity.
I don’t need to say much here about the third beautiful word that has shaped and profoundly impacted my life, except that it overwhelms and completes all other beautiful words. It’s the name “JESUS.”
Words are powerful things. They can shape us in ways we don’t begin to understand. They can call us onto new paths or down dark alleys. They can lock us in prisons or open wide our doors. The French theologian-philosopher Blaise Pascal, said “Cold words freeze people, and hot words scorch them, and bitter words make them bitter, and wrathful words make them wrathful.” All that is true. But beautiful words give life. They give goodness and hope, they awaken holy desires, shed light on the path, give comfort and, sometimes, sheer joy.
What are your beautiful words? Savor them. Let them pull you forward. I have since come to understand better what my beautiful words have meant in my life, though I don’t claim to have fully comprehended them yet. There is always more to learn, for which I thank God.