Amidst all that surrounds New Year’s resolutions – hope, turning over a new leaf and unbridled optimism – there is a lot of intentionality associated with making a resolution. Besides the idea of improving (and turning some part of your life into version 2.0) that New Year ushers in, I love the tradition of making targeted, goal-oriented changes in our lives. I love the vulnerability of pointing out something I wasn’t doing well, and then desiring and vowing to be better in the year to come. Perhaps I love it because it takes something Christ is always for – new creation – and pushes it mainstream. Or perhaps I love it because it takes courage and resolve and promise. Or perhaps I love it because of the theme of redemption or restoration.
Whatever the case, as we set those goals of going to the gym more, eating healthy or maybe even reading our Bibles more, it occurs to me that I very rarely hear someone commit to a New Year’s resolution around language. There is the occasional “I will try to swear less this year,” but if you are swearing less, what will you say more of and what might you hear in the silence?
Whether we realize it or not, our words define us. If we’re lucky, we get an entire phrase; but if we’re not, it could be that one word that keeps like popping up like all over, like all the time, almost like we like can’t get away from it.
What do you say over and over and over again? Is it intentional? Is it worth it? Is it funny? Serious? Shameful?
One of my friends helped me (unintentionally) with mine a few days ago. Using a screenshot of a text, she really tried to channel me – and apparently, that meant adding lots of “ya” all over the place. Now, that is written language. Some people are able to cultivate more than one catchphrase. My grandma’s phrases still live on today in our family, coupled with our best impressions of her thick Massachusetts accent. We say “too-ta-loo” when we say good-bye, and we say “God love” is acceptable when someone is in a tough spot or flying high. Another pastor friend of mine apparently values honesty, often prefacing his sentences with “Truth be told …”
My dad keeps himself in check so much so that “that’s lousy” is his phrase for the truly abhorrent, and when he’s really frustrated he may let out an exasperated “rats!” for all to hear. My younger sister is an affirmer. When you talk to her, she nods along, interjecting “mmm-hmmm” and “yes” encouraging you to continue. And I will never forget the quote “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous” from a former youth-minister.
When we love, we forgive, so almost any phrase can/could become endearing, but in the spirit of the “new year, new you,” what would you want to be yours?
Of all the phrases in the Bible, Jesus most often said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” The feminist in me assumes the male pronouns there were due to the patriarchal society back then, because isn’t that a call to all of us to listen?! And it sure sounds inclusive to me; Jesus introduced his words in this way so that those who had been excluded would be included, knowing the Pharisees and Sadducees were too busy thinking of how they would respond rather than how they would listen.
And could that be part of our New Year’s resolutions when it comes to language? I wonder if part of being intentional about what we say means saying less to begin with – listening more to God and to others and listening to listen, rather than to talk.
Another of Jesus’ favorite phrases was, “You have heard it said … but I say to you.” Gotta hand it to Jesus, I’d like this to be one I’m known for. It is Jesus’ language for who he was: redeemer. He was not sent to abolish but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17), not to destroy, but to build up.
If you’re anything like me, you have a few words or phrases that you say a lot that mean hardly anything. And likely, you have a few words or phrases that are bad habits and are against who you want to be known as in 2017. But, by the grace of God, you likely have come up with a few good ones along the way too.
I’ve always been a little disappointed in myself for liking Toby Mac’s song, “Speak Life,” because that phrase is almost certainly insider Christian language. But, the message is solid. What do you already say that you want to go mainstream in 2017? Words are subtle, but informative. Words create, shape and author. How can you say more with the words you purposefully choose to say in 2017? How can you love with your opportunities to listen?
JULIE RAFFETY is in her first call as associate pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Rockford, Illinois. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.