Speaking with a Tender-hearted Preciseness

We live in an age saturated by hyperbole and verbal imprecision. Sinking ever deeper into the quagmire of group-think, ill-informed labeling, and inanely voiced opinions based in half-truth, egregious polemics, and lack-luster social analysis, our culture has somehow lost its ability to communicate in a way that’s even remotely meaningful. For example, when did the deaths of innocent civilians during drone strikes become “collateral damage”? And when, too, did government “budget cuts” come to mean “a decrease in projected spending increases”? And then there’s one of my all-time favorites: The ever idiomatic “Adult Entertainment Industry.” To my knowledge, “adult” still means “mature, fully-grown, and fully-developed,” and “industry” still means “hard work.” How in heaven did pornography ever come to be associated with such things as “thrift,” “grit,” and “the wisdom of adulthood”? And then there are the many words we use like “evil,” “homophobic,” “liberal,” “low-fat,” “all-natrual,” and “intolerant” with little real thought as to what we’re saying. Or to what’s being said to us. Or to just how degrading, dismissive, and insulting our collective imprecision has become.

Some would say we live in an age of ever-increasing knowledge acquisition. While I would agree, I would argue that much of what fuels our acquisition and articulation (or packaging) of such knowledge is the desire to benefit economically; to control or diminish those we feel threatened by; or just to entertain, shock, or capture the attention of others. Rarely is truth-telling in the media the central aim of its sound-bites or sponsoring advertisements. On a more personal level, rarely do we speak the truth simply because it’s the truth and the right thing to say… every time… and in every situation.

Truth, especially in a culture of untruth, can be inconvenient and difficult to swallow. But such things don’t make it any less valuable. Jesus said, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” [see Jn 18:37].

Truth. Do you know it when you see it? When you read it? When you hear it? In all honesty, my answer is… sometimes. Probably because I often feel like I’m being lied to. For instance, when has a bowl of Fruit Loops ever been “an essential part of a healthy breakfast”? So, yes, to me it feels often like everything around me is arrayed toward bullying me into doing what some special interest group, political action committee, or multi-national corporation or governing body (like Apple, the UN or, even, a Home Owners Association) wants me to do. Except where Scripture is concerned. The Scriptures don’t lie. They don’t just convey truth either. They are the Truth, in part and in whole. Jesus, too, is the Truth, for H-he is the Living Word of God made human. When I examine the Words of Jesus, what immediately jumps out at me is H-his verbal precision. Consider the following passages:

Jesus speaking: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” [see Mt 6:24].

Jesus speaking: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” [see Mt 5:27-28].

Jesus speaking: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” [see Mt 16:24-26].

In thinking on the above, it’s really hard to mistake what Jesus meant. H-he was clear, to the point, and radically (if not brutally) honest. While H-he often used metaphor (the rhetorical engine of parable), H-he spoke (or still speaks) with a precision that far surpasses anyone before or after Him. But it wasn’t just H-his clarity that set H-him apart. There was always an undercurrent of compassion in the way H-he interacted with people. How often did Jesus take the time to meet people specifically at their deepest points of need and then respond in a manner that seemed to just dissipate years of pent-up anger, hurt, and sickness? Even when battling the religious leaders of H-his day, the motives underlying H-his energetic words were always the glory of God, the promulgation of truth, and the temporal and eternal welfare of H-his listeners. No one, either before or after Jesus, has ever spoken about things or to people the way Jesus did.

The practice of communication genuineness and preciseness is, of course, all about attentiveness: To God, to those around you, and even to your own heart. It’s also about becoming slow to speak so you might be quick to hear what comes out of your own mouth and begin to discover just how much what you say and how you say it affects the people around you. While a healthy mindfulness of our words is needful (perhaps even desperately so), our self-monitoring should never get to the point where it becomes stifling or makes conversation with those we care about no longer enjoyable. Connecting with others is far too important. Endeavor to speak precisely; but, above that, be genuine, express yourself openly and honestly, and invite those you care about to do the same.

Words mean things. Fall in love with words and with what those words mean. Fall in love, too, with how they sound and with how they can be strung together to create a manner of thought perhaps never thought of before. And with how, too, they can build-up and bring healing to those around you. Go to Jesus, the Author of Speech, and pay attention to the tender-hearted preciseness of H-his Words. As you do this, ask God to help you become one who speaks with ever-decreasing speed and yet ever-increasing precision, clarity, and compassion. In a culture dominated by lies, speed, and verbal harshness, the truth and kindness of your simple words will, in time, become exceedingly valuable.