When one of my kids was very little, the teacher was helping the class go through all the new words in a story they had read together. The teacher was asking the children if they knew what any of the words might mean, with context giving helpful clues. One of the words in their story was “chatterbox.” My beloved child looked at the teacher and said, “I know what that word means! It’s my mom after church on Sundays.”
And, it’s true. After church on Sundays, my poor children spend a lot of time in my office wondering when mom will finish talking to people so they can go home.
The truth is deeper than that, too, though.
I’m a verbal processor. When difficult things happen, I have this need – even compulsion – to start talking to try and make sense of what’s going on. Even when there’s nothing to say, I grasp for words because words feel like power, words feel like gaining control over a problem at hand, words feel like the keys to unlocking whatever dilemma, struggle, or problem I’m facing.
A lot of times, words are key.
The words we use speak volumes, whether we choose to say “I’m sorry” when we’ve made a mistake, or “I love you” when those words are most needed. I’ve even been thinking about my reluctance to say “you’re welcome” when someone thanks me. I defer to less committal words like “no problem” or “of course.” I do it so often that it has become habit.
Our words have the power to create reality. That’s one reason why I write. I want to find the words to paint the world I want to live in. Things are not as they should be, and though I’m not powerful enough to change all of those things, finding the words to describe something better empowers me to go out into my life and make some kind of a difference, even if it is microscopic in the grand scheme of things.
Words can change the world.
They can and they do.
But, I have a confession to make that far too often I look to words as the only tool of strength I possess. When someone says something to wound me, I use my words to defend myself. When the world is careening out of control, I look for words to put things back together again. When I feel weak, words make me feel strong. A lot of times, the words really do help. But sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes words are just a racket. Sometimes words are just a little more salt in a wound. Sometimes words are facade I put up because I’m afraid of remaining weak and vulnerable.
When it comes to living, sometimes words are strength. But sometimes, in life the strength is silent.
There is strength in choosing not to engage.
There is strength in refusing to perpetuate the word war.
There is strength is laying it down and letting it go.
Listen, I know that in the face of injustice we must speak. I know that when wrongs and atrocities and violence are present, we must say “no more.” But, it isn’t weak to choose not to get the last word. It is not a sign of weakness to turn away. Sometimes, the words merely keep us engaged in a cycle of self-defeat and defensiveness.
Sometimes the strength is silent.
I have found that it takes strength to walk into a completely silent room and not turn on the television. It takes strength to sit in the silence and listen. Strength can be found in a prayer closet, in a nature walk, in a blank page, in a quiet embrace. Words may hold power, but silence sometimes holds more.
Words are strong, but sometimes the strength is silent.
Sometimes the best words are no words.
Getting the last word is not the same as winning.
And who said strength was in the winning anyway?