Language Matters

I am perhaps a bit obsessed with language.  I believe that how I phrase something matters, both in verbal and written communication.  This is perhaps not a surprise to many, since I am, after all, a lawyer. I think God knew to lead me towards that profession rather than the many other options that also interested me, since I do really enjoy the craft of words.  Nevertheless, being a precise communicator has its advantages and disadvantages.

The positive side:

First, much of the legal work I do for Cru has to do with helping US Campus staff know what words to use when addressing potential or actual legal challenges on their campuses. This often comes down to how to phrase things in a respectful, common-ground-seeking way that still stays true to our values and messages as an organization. We want to help the administrators on various campuses understand why what our student Chapter is doing benefits them and is consistent with the state of the law.  It is often the subtle things that make a difference in this type of communication.

Second, because most people interpret life through the lens of their worldview, and because the worldviews in our culture are becoming more and more diverse, we have to provide more context for our thoughts and assertions. It is important to both seek to understand the other person’s perspective, helping him/her to feel heard, and important to clarify where my perspective agrees and differs.  This is helpful in building good rapport; it is also helpful to avoid leaving a conversation thinking we understand one another when we actually do not.  I have found that this is helpful when talking about the Bible in particular, both with unchurched and churched people.  

I cannot assume, for example, that a student I am talking to has any context for understanding that God’s commands in the Bible are steeped in the context of both truth and grace. For Christians, I have to continually remind them that service, ministry, and Godly living must come out of a place of security, confidence and joy in their walk with God. I want to help people understand that Biblical standards for right and wrong arise out of the fact that God is a holy and loving God who knows that we will be most satisfied when we obey because he loves us as a loving Father, giving his children boundaries for their own protection.  If we are his child (adopted into the family of God), we have his unfading love, but we will experience his love more when we draw close to him and walk in his ways. The language I use to describe these truths matters because society likes to falsely paint God as an angry, demanding, selfish father—and such thoughts can sneak in and warp the interpretations of the gospel in students hearts and minds…  But God’s Word is so powerful and so good—I am thankful for it!

The negative side:

One downside of my obsession with language is that I get frustrated when people don’t understand me.  I want so much to communicate well that I don’t give myself much grace when either I fail at communicating well, or someone else simply is not tracking with me for whatever reason. We are relational beings, and communication is very complex and full of pitfalls. I am thankful for God’s grace in the midst of it all. We are broken people, and yet he is such an amazing example of faithfulness and love that accepts us, but doesn’t leave us where we are.  I don’t want my relationships to be characterized by frustration over communication problems, but rather by a commitment to seek understanding and cover all things in love.

Another downside (on a lighter note) is that Jeremiah gets frustrated when I micromanage his writing (haha). There is a certain amount of personality that needs to come through the writing, and he sometimes complains that I am taking away the emotion he is trying to communicate when I adjust a sentence “to be more clear.” We work it out, and are actually a pretty good team when it comes to communicating in ministry and life (He gives me amazing ideas and feedback for discipleship planning, helps me to simplify complex ideas, and reminds me how to sound less formal when I am planning devotionals.  And I help him organize and clarify his thinking and communicate to “do-ers,” since he is such a big-picture thinker). But it does come up from time to time…

A Final Thought:

I think the key overall is to keep a light view of things. None of us can hold ourselves to a perfect standard in any area of life. God has given us different giftings, and we can seek wisdom and strength from Him to use those gifts in ways that most glorify Him and build up the Body of Christ. But we also must give ourselves and all those we are in relationship with grace upon grace, just as Christ gives to us. If we do that, I think we will find that we appreciate and rely upon the gifts of our brothers and sisters in Christ all the more, and find more fruit from our gifts as well.

P.s. (Jeremiah told me to put this): sorry for being so wordy…

2 thoughts on “Language Matters

  1. Oh Jeremiah! Let her use up her word allotment without apology! Lori, I can picture your voice when I read your writing and I like it. You are very clear and precise when you speak, and you challenge me to not be careless with my words. I hold what you say in high esteem. 🙂

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