During Covid-19, my family has stayed home together for most of the time. Ben has worked, all four kids attended online school, and I’ve continued writing. Even during the summer, we’ve generally remained in our house. So, we’ve developed a few habits, including one in which we text on a family chat instead of talking face-to-face for every discussion. It’s easier than yelling for everyone to assemble when we must make decisions. We yell enough without adding to the noise when a text will suffice. Usually, the texts are innocuous, like what do we want for lunch? But a couple of times, someone pushed send before they’d typed any words into the text message. The texts popped up containing the words, “empty message.”
I feel like we send and receive a lot of empty messages these days because we talk a lot, but often our words lack value. Or the opposite is true, we don’t say anything when we could contribute words with significance. Do we have a worthy purpose in speaking (even if we might upset some people) or are we just talking to stir up people’s negative emotions? Some of us have spent so much time arguing that we don’t seem to know another way to function in the world.
In a familiar passage, the Bible says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.” I Cor. 13:1 (NIV). Another translation says that if I do not speak with love, “I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.” (MSG). Unless love motivates and inspires our words, it doesn’t matter how eloquent the words are or even how truthful. We can speak clearly and persuasively, but if our purpose is not rooted in love, the words fail to reach the hearts and minds of others in a positive, uplifting way.
When we do not speak from a place of love, we may speak from fear instead. We fear being wrong, so we justify our positions no matter what. We don’t want to feel vulnerable, so we deflect and defend instead of apologizing. We don’t want to be hurt, so we hurt the other person first with words we can’t take back. We spew hate because we worry that we will be displaced, become irrelevant, or fear people who may seem different from us.
Similarly, when we do not speak, we may believe our goal is to keep the peace, but our lack of action may be based on fear, not love, in the face of injustice or unfairness. We don’t want to be criticized, so we stay silent. But failure to speak is not only a problem when the words are difficult. We decline to send a kind word to another out of fear of rejection.
In order to decide if our words are grounded in love, we must make a habit of taking a moment to assess before we act. We need to pray and seek God’s wisdom to center ourselves in a spirit of love. We must examine our purposes and motivations. If we want to encourage and build up others, let us speak. When we feel compelled to speak up to avoid silent complicity, let us speak with love to demonstrate that love to the oppressed. When we feel led to reach out to another in love, we should follow that instinct.
We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap of empty messages that do not serve God’s greater purpose. God can speak to others through our words and can change hearts and minds if we commit to communicating in love. God’s love speaks volumes. May God help us further his love with our words.