The Words we Take and Give
I’ve been thinking a lot about the words we take and pass along. I don’t want to negate the seriousness of plagiarizing in this post. It’s not only a copyright infringement to steal another’s words and parade them as your own, but it’s a ninth commandment violation. (This is a good site that lays out the details about what plagiarism entails).
Still, as I think about my own Christian life, I can’t help but think about all the words I’ve passed on through the years. I’m not talking about the words we create for work, sermons, articles, audiences, or followers. I’m thinking about the words shared between a friend on the phone or over a cup of coffee.
I can think of phrases from Sunday school teachers, mentors, and pastors that have repeatedly passed through my own lips. Explanations of theology that set off light bulbs in my brain have been shared time and again to another. Encouragements in the midst of suffering have bolstered my spirits, and I, in turn, have spoken the same words of life to another. I’ve grabbed the words of our pastors and rehashed them to give answers to our children’s confusion.
At the time I usually give credit: I read an article that said… A good friend of mine told me… My pastor once explained it like this…. But far too often the unknown names won’t take root in the listener. Sometimes the citations fade into the background of my own lost memory. Who was it who said that? I can’t quite remember. But I remember how God used those words when I needed it, so I passed them on to another. The words live on—borrowed for another day, while the author remains shadowed.
The anonymity of it all clashes with a world that’s bent on marking our own immortality. Writers hope their words will live like the legends. Athletes work to make their records immovable. Even parents at times view their children as little pieces of themselves to live on in the world once they’ve passed. Just like in Babel, we’re told to add another block to the monument that will make a name for ourselves.
As Christians, we know this is fruitless. Ecclesiastes warns us “there is no remembrance of former things” (Ecc. 1:11). If we’re honest, we have to admit most of us will quickly be forgotten.
Just as God orchestrates the time for the tomato to fall to the earth, so we too will reach our physical end on this earth. Everything dies. Yet the loss of that little tomato produces something incredible—seeds. These seeds pass to another plot of dirt, to grow and bear fruit, until it too meets its end. And more little seeds will continue on in the cycle.
I’d like to think the same of the words we take and give to others. The words of hope are little seeds spreading out and sowing life, hope, understanding, and good fruit. We might not remember much about the fruit it came from, but we see the life that bears from it. We see the beauty of a budding plant. Nobody fondly dwells on the original tomato, but instead we lift our eyes up to the Creator of every seed-bearing plant. This is how it should be.
Ultimately, we should hope that our words of encouragement are taken for another day— not plagiarized, but passed on to the person that needs to hear them. Whenever we offer encouragement to hope in Christ, we know it’s the Spirit who will do the work, anyway. We can only pray he uses our meager words to cultivate fruit in our listener, and then produce a seed to sow in another patch of fertile soil. Not because we are special, but because that’s how the Lord works—faithfully planting and producing every seed-bearing saint across the earth.
What seeds have you been given? What phrases have stuck in your head from a faithful friend, parent, or pastor? Think of the words of comfort and wisdom that the Holy Spirit has allowed to take root in your soul, and think how you can pass them on to another. Our names might be forgotten, but the life-giving fruit will continue to be cultivated by our good Lord until he returns.
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