I had a profound moment at church yesterday. Our family sat near the deaf members of the parish, by the interpreter. One particular deaf man caught my eye. He was praying with us in sign language, and the look on his face told me that he was very deep into the prayers.
In that moment, watching him, it dawned on me: our words are nothing. Complete and utter nothingness. What makes words powerful is NOT the words themselves. It's not perfectly recited prayers or perfectly sung hymns. It's love. It's our love of God and neighbor that takes a simple string of phonetic sounds (or signs made with your hands) and gives them deep, powerful meaning. It's love that gives true glory and praise and thanks to God. NOT words.
This was humbling and very eye-opening for me as a writer, as someone who has always believed deeply in the power of words. But words are nothing but a "vehicle" for our praises. In fact, words without love are as useless as a vehicle without gasoline. A pen without ink. A sail without wind. A body without life. And not just useless. Words are actually hurtful when offered to God devoid of love - even the most pleasant-sounding words.
To confirm this, the Lord brought to mind a person I have struggled with, someone who says all the "right words," but has no love. Someone who never misses church, but does evil to the body of Christ, in secret, outside of church. The Lord reminded me of the great pain this person causes me and those who know the hollowness. How hurtful it is to watch the façade, especially when no one else can see it. It's painful to love a phantom. To give love that is not returned.
This is how painful it is for God when we live similarly double lives. When we give him our words, but not our hearts. Because, it's our hearts that He really wants -- our motives, our intentions, our thoughts, our desires, and our remorse.
Our words are supposed to describe what's in the heart, like paint describes a landscape. When they do not, it is like looking at a painting of a fake place that you long to experience but that doesn't exist.
For God, your heart is His dwelling place. So empty words paint a painful picture of what could've been, what should've been, but what isn't. Because He knows the truth of the heart, empty words are just a reminder of His rejection.
God pours himself out for us, gives himself entirely to us -- every minute of every day, over and over again. And what do we give him back? Are words the only thing we have to offer?
I pray today we all try to better align our words and our hearts. I pray we think - REALLY think - about each word of every prayer. I pray we have the grace to mean what we say l, and say what we mean when it comes to our faith life.
I pray we develop a new, unique and personal sign language with God - the sign of a holy life, given to Him in a language of love. I pray our words become a reflection of the truth living within us... that we are his beloved children, and He is our Eternal Father. And I pray this truth is communicated to all those around you, too.
As St. Francis of Assisi once said, "Preach the gospel at all times. And when you have to, use words."
Peace be with you, friends.