"It's just words, folks. It's just words."
My dad used to say "'just' is the biggest word in the English language". It's one of my strongest memories, him saying this, usually when we would say, "oh, just five more minutes of TV! It's just washable marker!" When we say, "just", we insinuate that whatever comes after it is minimal. We mean to say that whatever it is doesn't really matter, in the scheme of things. So when I heard this phrase spoken in the presidential debate last night, I immediately thought about my dad's token phrase. But here's the thing: I believe that words DO matter. My faith is rooted in the belief of a God whose words actually speak things into existence. "
Words aren't just words; words have power-- for good, and for evil. Just last week, I witnessed friends speak words of covenant and commitment to one another, that bound themselves to each other for the rest of their lives. Words above water fountains and restaurant entryways saying "WHITES ONLY" had power to separate and degrade human beings from one another in our own country, not very long ago. And words stick with us; when I think back on particularly difficult situations in my life, it is not the setting I remember most vividly, but the actual words that were spoken to me; in most circumstances, the healing I have needed was not physical, but the mental and emotional harm that words caused.
Senior year of high school, one of the final things we did in my English class was watch a recording of the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. If you haven't read or watched it, it's a post-modern play that takes place in and around the story of Hamlet. But the phrase that stung my ears and still echoes frequently from the play is this: "Words, words, they're all we have to go on." Words matter, because they make up the majority of our interactions. Words are how we interact with others, how we learn more about people, how we grow in our knowledge.
I am currently doing a study on friendship, and if studying friendship from a spiritual perspective has taught me anything, it's that I have a long way to go in being a better friend-- and the majority of the places that need change are centered in communication. Words are not the whole of our relationships, but if I never spoke to friends or family, our relationship would be significantly different.
As a child, the majority of the redirection and consequences I received were in relation to things I said. Whether it was to my sisters (mainly), or other people, if I said something inappropriate, or rude, or hurtful, my parents were quick to call me out on it. Whether serious or silly, how many times have you said (or heard someone say), "oh honey, we don't say that"? As children we learn at an early age that words have power because we are taught what is appropriate and inappropriate to say. So when a presidential candidate says, "it's just words", as though it doesn't count because it isn't proof of action, I have to wonder-- would we treat children with the same indifference if they criticized people for their race, or made sweeping assumptions about people based on their zip code, or threatened them with harm?
Jesus was intentional about everything he said. He lived with an incredibly focused mission, and ensured that what he said matched how he lived. Words and actions do work closely in tandem and we cannot separate one from the other. But to say that "it's just words" is to assert that words don't have power, and it's just not true. If we aspire to be Christ-like, to live as disciples of Jesus who try to emulate him, then we have to believe in our core that our words have the power of life and death. Jesus healed the sick and raised people from the dead with only his words. Our goal as Christians should be that our words so match our actions that everything we speak is filled with truth and life. I am a far way from this, but I want to live as though my words matter-- because they do, and they're too important to call them "just words".