It’s a weird paradox that the most essential and vital things are also some of the first to be taken for granted. Breathing and beating hearts reside quietly in the background until they don’t.
I thought about this for the first time as a little girl with recurring strep throat. On the worst days, I would think that just being able to swallow without pain would’ve been the greatest possible gift. I can still feel the fire in my throat and ears and remember praying, “God, please just make this go away and I will never take my throat for granted again.” Of course I do take it for granted, though. I’m sure the Creator of the Universe didn’t need my bargain and knew that my little mind couldn’t keep track of each sip and swallow.
There’s the rub, though – the things that are always there without much effort don’t clamor for our attention in the same way that other things can. With a looming deadline or an appointment to race to, who has the time to feel the beauty of a beating heart or the gift of a nice, deep breath? It’s so easy to neglect those things that show up for us without being asked.
I think words are like that too. Floating around us before we even really know what they are, we can’t remember life before them. Words have always been there – like beating, breathing, and swallowing – steady even when untended. Words are ubiquitous, but that doesn’t make them easy. One of our kids has taken to saying, “It’s nothing” if we don’t hear what he’s said the first time or don’t quite understand what he means. Sorting complex thoughts into clear words is no easy task, so he just wants to skip the whole mess and move on.
Occasionally, “it’s nothing” is actually true. Not all words are worth the work. If he didn’t recognize that, then the volume of Minecraft play-by-plays would’ve broken my brain years ago. It takes wisdom to know when words should wait and which ones should just live as thoughts.
The thing we watch for is when “It’s nothing” comes when finding words is too complicated, risky, or sad. The lost words that are begging to be said, but stick in our throats because we don’t know if they’ll come out the way we mean. It can be hard to know the difference between wasting our breath and slow but meaningful dialog. It won’t always be clear or easy, but I’m sure that it matters that we try.
Everything comes to the surface in one way or another. Nothing can ever be buried for long. Not feelings. Not secrets. Not lies. Words give us the upper hand, fumbling toward the truth even when it feels far away. I think the fumbling matters more than any of us really understand. We just want to arrive at our destination, to say or know the ending without having to do the work of getting there. But nothing of value comes that easily, does it?
In the worst, most lonely times, it might feel like our imperfect words don’t matter – or aren’t worth fighting for. We’ve all said things and ended up far from where we intended. In a noisy world, one voice doesn’t seem very loud.
There’s so much space between the stars. And in the all of that, there is a You. You have a voice in this vast, unknowable universe. Tossed with mysteries and miracles are the words inside of you. Maybe they’re not clear or defined or all figured out – but your words are certainly not nothing.