The brother of Jesus, James, has a book in the Bible and he gets very serious about the weight and power of our words:
3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
He’s talking about speaking, but I think that written word has just as much if not more power because written words echo unadulterated longer. They linger. You can be in denial of what you say out loud a lot more easily (heck our President shows you that you can deny what you say even when it’s recorded), but written words seem to haunt us forever. You may grow and change, your viewpoints may evolve, you may learn new lessons and see the world in a new way, but once upon a time you wrote those words. And they don’t erase.
I haven’t journaled regularly since my family fell apart when I was in high school. I’ve been chewing on this reality for a while now trying to figure out why that is, because when you’ve been called to use your words and there is some kind of subconscious mental block against doing that, you need to figure it out.
For a while I’ve thought that young me was motivated to journal for the benefit of other people still. Like one day my grandkids would read about me imagining myself holding hands with my 8th Grade crush. Like 8th Grade me wanted anyone to read that. This is a palatable idea for me because as an Enneagram 9, it’s comfortable to accept that I don’t do much for my own enjoyment or benefit because I barely know what that is. I’ve thought that maybe after my “perfect, admirable life” fell apart into a sham that I didn’t have anything perfect enough to write about so I just didn’t write.
But I think that there’s an uglier underlying issue that I don’t really want to confront. And when I look back in my life at other times I’ve buried myself, the motivation is similar - fear.
I really freaking hate this because I don’t like to believe that I’m a very fear-motivated person anymore. There was a time that my whole world was fear driven - as most sheltered kids experience - but I thought I had outgrown it. I thought I was more brave than this.
But I don’t know…
My teen years were the booming hayday for the new idea of live journaling - the thing blogs were before blogs were a thing. There was LiveJournal and Xanga and I was team Xanga all the way. As a 14/15/16 year old I religiously wrote entries on my Xanga. I bet it’s out there in internet land somewhere, and I bet it would make me squirm. All my thoughts and experiences rolled off my fingertips and into my Xanga entries, and I published with a flutter in my stomach and excitement in my heart. Everytime!
Coincidentally, this was about the same time that the crud in my parents’ marriage was really hitting the fan hard. We had just moved to a new state and the stress was showing true colors of a marriage that had been struggling for some time. Without their support system (and spectators) around them, the foundation was falling out and I was a hormonal teenager watching.
In one entry I wrote about a secret my family was trying to hide - and I didn’t know it. I wrote the truth and brought it to light, and people saw it. Then they asked questions, and that was it. It seemed like my words crumbled my family to the ground and obliterated it into a million pieces. A fight over a Xanga entry seemed to set a series of events into action that would rewrite the rest of my teen years and change my siblings’ lives forever.
Damnit. Words are really powerful. James was right. What right is it of mine to have or express thoughts and feelings outwardly. They just injure. They just destroy. They ruined my life.
I’m afraid. I’m afraid of the power in my words. And so I’m silent.
Here’s what I know about this experience now as a 30 year old woman: my words didn’t destroy my parents’ marriage. It was gone before I even knew it was. I can absolve myself of any real responsibility there and I know that. I’m married and a parent now and being a wife and a mom solidifies my understanding that my parents’ marriage was out of my 16 year old control all along.
That’s all logical, but for some reason the fear still resides deep in my soul.
I think to some degree a healthy fear of written words is going to be necessary to keep me grounded and inside of my call. Afterall, James didn’t spend all of that time talking about words for nothing. It’s wisdom to choose our words carefully, to speak them with humility and reverence. To know that our words are dangerous helps us wield them responsibly, like a weapon used to protect instead of kill.
But I know I’ve got to get out of this paralyzed state of fear. A healthy fear has crossed a line into a tool of Satan that traps me somewhere.
I’m afraid of this post. I’m petrified of these words. But I’ve got to shake the dust off somehow and begin unburying myself. You have to use the sharpest part of the shovel with the hardest force to first break the ground, right?