Last week, as I was swimming with a couple of my children while on vacation, a little boy near me in the pool realized that I was a perfect audience for him. He was clearly a good swimmer, and he wanted to show me every conceivable flip and spin and splash that he had mastered at his young age. No adult was with him, and my children had now moved to the other end of the pool, leaving me alone with the green-goggled child whose only phrase seemed to be, “Hey, watch this!”
When his head popped out of the water after one fantastic flip, I finally managed to ask him a simple question: “So, how old are you?”
“Five,” he answered. “How old are you?”
And that’s when it happened. Without the filter that one hopes will come in future years, a single word that sounded for a million seconds escaped his lips: “Daaaaaaaaang!”
They say that words create worlds, and that “Big Dang” created a world that is hauntingly familiar, no matter how much I try to avoid it. It’s a world of insecurity and uncertainty, of hesitancy and doubt, a world where things appear and sound in ways that confuse illusion for truth.
And once you hear a word that ushers you into that world of insecurity, every word you hear takes on a sinister quality.
Someone at a conference comes out of a worship service and asks, “When are you going to preach like that?,” and you wonder why you ever thought you could step into a pulpit in the first place.
Someone asks how your children are doing, and all you hear in your head is a rehearsal of the myriad ways you fear you have failed as a parent, and you suspect the person before you is thinking of those things too, plus a couple of more.
Every word spoken by another, every encounter, becomes a moment of fearful waiting as you listen and watch for confirmation that your worst fears about yourself are true. And that confirmation comes all too quickly when that’s your only expectation.
But even if you believe the lies, they remain untrue.
Last fall, a friend of mine told me about her “This I Know” book. It’s a small notebook she carries in which she has written down the words she knows to be true about herself. And she reaches for it when some “big dang” tries to convince her to believe some corrupted word about herself, a word that always makes her question her value or worth.
I’ve come to see the wisdom in her practice.
False words may have the power to create a false world.
But true words have power to lead us home.