Words of the Heart
“Thus I spoke, more and more softly; for I was afraid of my own thoughts and the thoughts behind my thoughts." -Friedrich Nietzsche
“Are you always analyzing us now?”
By the above statement, you can probably guess how excited people get when a future therapist shows up at a party. I often get asked if I’m silently figuring out someone’s problems while they talk to me. For those of you who are regularly in conversation with me, the answer is ‘no’ but I definitely understand this sentiment. We don’t like the feeling that someone can see inside of us...to those bits that we’ve done a good job of hiding (or the ones we know we’re not even aware of but would not enjoy being aware of…)
My studies in the counseling field are not preparing me to be some sage with immediate impressions on every person’s historical brokenness. Yes, my education is preparing me to understand the complexities of disorders and trauma, the ways people adapt to stress and cope poorly, all of the things you would want your therapist to know! But there is a simplicity to reading people that I realized this week is entirely scriptural.
In James 3 we are reminded of the necessity, and at the same time impossibility, of taming our tongues. They are like rudders to ships, small instruments that wield such immense power. And where do they draw their power? From our hearts. We don’t speak from a vacuum as much as we like to think we do. On a subconscious level we are speaking from feelings we may not be aware of all the time. Jesus revealed as much to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34 - “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
What have we filled our hearts with? Pain...insecurity...fear. Longing to be loved...appreciated...heard. So when we speak, what are our words laced with? I’ve written before about how we lash out in our wounds to wound others. That feels much more active and I would imagine most of us would say “That’s not me...I don’t actively seek to wound people.” But what passive words come from your mouth that represent your woundedness? What feelings slip out without you realizing that show the fear and insecurity of your heart?
When I’m in conversation with someone, if they slip up or say something they shouldn’t and apologize - what’s my immediate reaction? “Don’t worry about it! It’s totally fine!” I’m about to lose some of you here...but this isn’t as innocuous as it seems. I do that because I feel a need to protect the other person from feeling bad. My heart doesn’t like for people to feel bad, or feel like I could cause them to feel bad, so even in a simple reaction I can reveal my desperate need for approval, protection from shame and ultimately to act as ‘savior’ to them. Out of my heart, my words flow.
Notice I didn’t use an example that shows particularly harsh or even bad words. The problem is not always what’s being said, but my unawareness of where it is coming from. I am being constantly challenged to look deeper into my heart and ask the hard question of what is it filled with?
If you’re like me the next step in this process is to figure out how to regulate every word...or just shut down the emotions. It’s easier than digging through them. But what am I offering to those who love me if I am not working hard to unpack the filth I have allowed to fill my heart? The pain and insecurity I have held onto from that interaction in middle school...the embarrassment from a situation in high school...the pain of loss in college...I’m drawing from a well that is filled with rancid memories, and the water I give people is far from refreshing. To only focus on changing what we say to each other is to only deal with the outward signs of our inward problem. We have to do the work of seeing what we have filled our hearts with - and we have to be willing to allow others to reflect what they see in our words.
What would it mean for you to dig deep into what your heart is filled with, or ask someone close to you to reflect what they see?