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Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Also Hurt Me

KATIE POLSKI|CONTRIBUTOR

In first grade, there was a girl in my class who told me that my eyes looked like goldfish.

For the love of fish.  

I’m still not quite sure what that meant, but I do know that I spent too much time starring at myself in the mirror due to a concern over my fish-like eyeballs.

In Highschool, a boy told me I was “pretty cool,” but he tagged that with: “It’s just that guys aren’t going to date a pastor’s daughter.”  

And so, I kept that aspect of my identity a secret for as long as I could, coming up with alternative ways to explain my father’s profession. 

In college, after playing piano for a chapel service, a student remarked that I swayed a lot when playing. “It looks funny.”

I told him he looked funny.

It was, admittedly, a terrible comeback and didn’t help my cause at all. But for years, I was conscious of my “movements” while playing at the piano.

The Significance of Our Words

Words don’t just disappear. At times I wish they did, but from the moment they leave our mouth, they often make their way into the small crevasses of a hearer’s memory and nestle in, sometimes remaining for a lifetime.

If our words have this kind of impact, it’s essential that as believers we use them wisely. God certainly intended for us to speak; we’re created in His image, and He is a speaking God giving the world His inspired words for our benefit.

But we’re sinners, trudging through a broken world. Every one of us has messed up with our words, and we will likely do damage with them again. God in His graciousness forgives fully and completely, but that doesn’t mean that what we say won’t have a lasting impact.

It’s only wise, then, that as believers we give careful consideration to what the Bible has to say about the words we speak.

Our Words Reveal the Condition of our Heart

“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matt. 12:34-35).

These two verses are incredibly convicting. Our spiritual condition is made manifest by our words. This doesn’t mean, believer, that your unthoughtful or unkind words are unforgiveable. What it does mean is that we have a responsibility before God to consider the reasons underlying our harsh or rash words…   

Why Waiting is Good News

ASHLEY HALES|GUEST

As a family, we needed to see something grow, to learn to care for green and growing things, to get our hands in the dirt. We needed a small starting place: a project that wasn’t about what we could do but what we could watch. So my husband built a custom cedar planter for our patio.

Then one Saturday we loaded up our four children into the minivan and headed to the nursery. While my children wanted berry bushes and fruit trees, we settled on things that would fit in our raised bed planter: a few starter vegetables and herbs, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, basil, dill, rosemary, cilantro, and mint. We put in rocks for drainage and fresh soil. We lined up our few small plants and made holes with our shovels. We patted down the earth. My daughter eagerly hoisted the green plastic watering can and watered each plant diligently. We told our children that growing things takes time. We’d learn to care for the plants together; we’d practice patience.

Within days, the cucumber vines spilled over the edge and we noticed the popping yellow flowers. A few more days and little cucumbers dotted along the edges of vines. Each morning my daughter would head to the planter, water the vegetables, and run up the stairs excitedly showing me with her fingers how much her cucumber had grown. Some mornings when we discovered the leaves turning colors or a hole in a big green leaf, her joy would be stifled for a minute but then the refrain: “But Mama, we have more cucumbers, still!” We watched and waited, and something grew from nothing. Cucumbers were a miracle and waiting for them was magical.

But as we grow older, waiting feels like an inconvenience or affront. We take out our phones when we’re waiting in the grocery store aisle for two minutes. We listen to podcasts on our commute. We leaf through magazines at the doctor’s office. Waiting leaves us with a silence we don’t know what to do with.

Impatience with waiting is nothing new. Like the antsy Israelites who built a golden calf because they were tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, we don’t wait well.

Waiting evidences our limited autonomy and knowledge. We are subject to time and to conditions beyond our control….

The Delight and Direction of Work

BECKY KIERN|CONTRIBUTOR

My journey into the workplace began in 1996 on a warm summer’s evening. Since I was not yet old enough to drive, my Mom drove me to the neighbor’s house, where I was to spend the evening babysitting. She had the windows rolled down and the radio blaring as I sat in the passenger seat, filled with a mixture of excited pride and absolute terror. Twenty five years later, my work resume has included everything from answering phone calls in the back of a ham store (ham juice ruined my favorite shoes, but that’s another story), to working alongside some of the world’s finest heart surgeons. Some seasons of life have included work which was so fulfilling I woke up excited to get to the day’s task; while work in other seasons was so vexing, I dreaded going to bed at night, knowing the next day held hours filled with frustration.

Often when our labors are difficult, discouragement creeps in and we find ourselves asking, “Does any of my work matter?” or “What is the purpose of all this hard work?”

Created to Work

In the beginning of the Biblical narrative, Genesis 1:1 introduces God, focusing primarily on His work as Creator. He is described as first creating the heavens and the earth before turning his attention to the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. In Genesis 1:26, Moses continues to explain the creation narrative by recounting God’s words, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”       

           So God created them in his own image,
            in his own image he created him;
            male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over every living thing.”

After giving Adam and Eve His blessing, God called them both to do two things: to build a family together and to work. When all was good, when Adam and Eve walked freely with God, before shame, toil, broken dreams, or altered plans had entered into the world, humans were made for and instructed to work. Our work has dignity, because through it, we reflect the goodness of our Creator….

From Me-Focused to God-Focused Bible Study

REBEKAH MATT|GUEST

In the 25 years that I’ve been a Christian, I’ve participated in a lot of Bible studies.

There was the Bible study that encouraged me to be more like David, someone after God’s own heart. The Bible study that took me from Genesis to Revelation in ten weeks. Homespun Bible studies written by gifted women in my church and shiny new Bible studies from major publishers. Bible studies that provided free childcare (thank you, Lord) and Bible studies that had me in tears of conviction on the drive home. Big Bible studies in a room full of women and small Bible studies in a church member’s living room.

Over all these years with all these different studies (and in my own personal study), I regularly looked to the Bible for life-changing words that would transform my relationships, improve my spiritual self-discipline, or solve other problems in my life. This kind of “what’s in it for me?” way to study the Bible is the default setting even among longtime Christians. Reading the Bible and seeking God’s personal, problem-solving message to you is very common—try googling “what Bible verse should I read when” and you’ll see what I mean.

I did learn from these Bible studies. I sometimes even found answers to my problems or inspiration to become a better person in some particular way. But for more than two decades, even though I enjoyed and learned from the Bible studies that I had done, none of them answered the question that I didn’t even know I had: how to study and Bible, and why.

Finding a new (to me) approach to Bible study

I believe that any Bible reading is worthwhile, but seeing the Bible merely as a helpful life resource is very limiting. I’d been short-changing myself on the full benefits of reading the Bible by not thinking about how or why I was doing it….

The Sabbath is a Womb

LEAH FARISH|GUEST

I once started a list with just the title, “What I accomplish on the Sabbath” —and those words lay on a big blank page.

Actually, that captures most of my point.  At least in the world’s eyes, Sabbaths don’t accomplish very much, and I think that’s fine. 

How did I get comfortable with such scandalous unproductiveness?

In college I was dating a Christian who decided to “keep the Sabbath.”  What that meant to him was, no studying on Sunday.  I had a choice of either mirroring that schedule or being out of sync with him.  So I quit “working” on Sunday.  Eventually I fell out of love with the guy, but I fell in love with the Sabbath.  What won me over was this passage from Isaiah 58:

“If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the Lord,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth….”

I was intrigued by the reward offered for keeping the Sabbath: that I would take delight in God.  I was tantalized at the idea of increasing my enjoyment of Him, and amazed that it could happen as a result of doing something—or rather, not doing things.  After all, the passage indicates as much “negative” obedience as positive action…

When Furrows Fight Back

AIMEE JOSEPH|GUEST

Complaining about work is the adult equivalent of college students complaining about mid-terms and finals. And let’s be real, we all have those days when work feels like a weight too heavy to carry and “Everybody’s working for the weekend” is our theme song.

We are wired for work. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a result of the fall. Challenges in work and struggles with identity around work were most assuredly a consequence of man’s rebellion against God’s created and careful order; however, work itself honors God and is a needed part of human flourishing.

Wonderful Work

In his pattern of the newly minted perfect world, God offered Adam and Eve significant freedom to do significant work on the fresh earth. There were animals to name and gardens to tame. Carl Linnaeus had nothing on them. Work was not a burden, but a particular privilege for those made uniquely in God’s image.

God blessed the first human couple by giving them the significant work known as the cultural mandate.

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground’.” (Genesis 1:28).

As one who lives in San Diego and frequents the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, I can tell you this is no small task. The San Diego Zoo employs 2,300 employees to care for their menagerie. God entrusted Adam and Eve with a task that was large enough for the intellectual, physical, and creative capacities he gave them. God wired us for work.

My teenaged children balk at having to do special projects around our home. As good parents, we force them to do so anyway. When the day is done, they almost always say, “Today was a good day. We worked hard and accomplished a lot.” Similarly, sometimes I catch my husband hanging out in the shed after we have organized its chaos. There is something so human and right about accomplishment after hard work. Yet you and I both know that work is not always a worshipful experience….

Small Acts of Faithfulness

JESSICA ROAN|GUEST

I remember marveling at how small it was, that tiny little coffin. It still wasn’t real. 4 months old. Was he really gone? Was my friend actually mourning her first child? I have never felt so helpless, so unable to do anything to help.

As I stood at the cemetery, I heard a familiar voice begin to speak. I couldn’t see him, but I’d recognize that kind voice with a slight lisp anywhere. He spoke of God’s love and hope amidst maybe the worst tragedy a young mother could suffer. As I looked around at my co-workers, most of them unbelievers, my heart breathed a sigh of relief. That familiar voice belonged to a youth pastor I encountered in my teen years. This soft-spoken, kind, humble man was a pastor at a friend’s church when I was in high school. We were never particularly close, but his presence was God’s gift to me (and many others) that day. God was there in this seemingly hopeless situation using this man to bring my friend (and myself) the comfort we both needed. I saw him a few months later, and thanked him for his message on that sad day, but he will never know just how much his presence meant to me in that season of my life.

You see, that year was full of tragedy for my family. My father-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and passed within a few months; my mother-in-law’s health was failing; and my son’s nine-year-old classmate had suddenly passed away from complications with the flu. My children were young- five and eight-and while we were trying to help them navigate all of this loss, I was unknowingly mourning these young deaths as if they were my own children.

Recently, I reflected on this pastor’s seemingly small role in my life…