Monday, August 10, 2020

Honeycomb Words {Greatest Hits}

In 2010, I posted a pair of essays. The second of the pair hit the top 10 posts of the decade. For the sake of context, I'm combining them here and preaching these same truths, still, to my own heart.

I. Honeycomb Words

An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up (Proverbs 12:25, NIV1984).

Earlier this spring, I was feeling hungry:  hungry for approval. This is not so unusual for me, and the temptation actively to seek validation from others is one of the concerns I had about blogging. It's tantalizing but ultimately empty to chase page view numbers, comments, and the like.

On this particular day, however, that was not the focus. I was hungry for positive feedback from Important People, authority figures. Ebony and I are alike that way: highly motivated by yummy treats praise. Not being a student who would receive that from teachers or a professional who would (ideally) receive it from a manager or boss, I wanted it from doctors, who these days are the most numerous and frequently encountered authority figures in my life.

(Some might protest that doctors are service providers and I am the customer, but for a recovering people pleaser like me, that is not how it feels.)

In my journal and prayer time, God and I had a chat about this, or rather I talked and He listened. "I am working so hard at taking and keeping track of my medicines, adding and subtracting activities, making more appointments with more specialists when they say to, maintaining precise records of symptoms, medicines, and activities to provide them the data they need to help me... I'm worn out trying to get well. But it seems like the harder I try, the more new issues keep popping up.  The medicines aren't making as big or as fast a difference as the doctors expect, and when that happens it feels like I'm the one who's the failure and not the medicines or the treatment approach. I just want one of them to notice how hard I'm working at getting better and to tell me I'm doing a good job at being a patient. That's all.  I just want to hear from them that I'm doing this right."

Silence. I thought I heard a cricket chirp nearby.

So I did what any God-fearing, Bible-believing Christian in her third decade of walking with Christ would do. I went to my husband and repeated the whole pathetic litany to him.

Smile, nod, "Sweetie, God is in control of the results." Granted, he was on his way to the garage for something from his toolbox, and he was right, but that was still not the reaction I was hoping for.

Two weeks passed, and the urgency of the craving for Approval from Important People faded somewhat in the wee distractions of a bigger health crisis for a family member and an upcoming dental surgery.

A few days before the procedure, I met with my asthma doctor for a routine (as much as anything is with me) check. This wise doctor treats me with kindness, gentleness, respect, and personal attention as though I'm the only patient he will see that day. Although he is retirement age or fast approaching it, he continues to practice medicine and study the journals to improve his craft. He is a gifted physician skilled in the art as well as the science of medicine.

At this visit, he talked with me about any changes in my overall health picture and offered some suggestions for adapting my breathing and activities to decrease costochondritis pain. After supplying me with prescriptions and samples, he turned to leave and then turned back toward me.

"You know," he said, "I think this every time you come in here, but I'm not sure if I've ever actually said it to you. You are the kind of patient that reminds me why I keep doing this. You're caring, you're smart, and you...not everything is something we can make better, want to be better. Patients like you are the reason we--doctors, nurses--do what we do."

He paused a moment, nodded for emphasis, turned again, and left the room.

Gathering my belongings and composure, I swallowed hard, blinked back tears, and followed suit, both happy and deeply moved. After a stop at the front desk to pay and schedule the next appointment, I went to the car and sat in stunned silence a moment before turning toward home. A girl can live a long time on words like that.

God had seen. He had heard. He answered through this good physician in His due time. Through the words of my doctor, He let me know, "I have called you by your name; you are Mine."

Since then, when a positive observation or insight into someone around me has crossed my mind or path, I am seeking to follow my doctor's example by not only thinking it but saying or writing it to the person before life rushes on. We can never know this side of heaven whom around us might be starving for just such a sweet, healing word, but that is one case in which I believe from experience it is better to speak than to remain silent.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24, NIV1984).

II. When the Honeycomb Words Don't Stick

Last week a reader asked, "What do you do when you hear those [encouraging] words – but they go right through you as if they were never said – that would be my question – when you can't hear the positive what do you do?"

When a girl grows up with schoolmates calling her, "Dog," by which they mean ugly; "Bugs," as in the cartoon character, because of her severe overbite; "Brain," which in the strange world of elementary school is an insult, especially when targeted at a female...

When respected ballet teachers tell her she's not thin enough, straight enough, limber enough,...

When illness thins her hair, rounds her face, changes her husband's career path, keeps her from serving and loving her family in the way she's been accustomed...

Lies start digging trenches in her mind,*

Ruts so deep even kind words fall in.

The hairdresser calls her beautiful, and she thinks, "She's just saying that so she'll get a better tip."

Her husband tells her she looks pretty, and she thinks, "He knows how much time I spent on my makeup and hair and that I changed clothes six or seven times. He's afraid I'll be in a bad mood for our date."

Deep inside, those lies keep digging:

"Your appearance determines your worth."

"If you let them into your thoughts, they won't like you."

"You're not good enough."

"You don't measure up."

And do you know what? Those last two are true, but they are only part of the truth. The Bible says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23, HCSB). The very next sentence continues, "They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24).




The sins and shortcomings that the father of lies says disqualify her actually are actually the prerequisites for God's grace (see Romans 5:6-8).

Every time the girl chooses to believe the truth instead of the lie, another shovelful of dirt is scooped out of a new rut and the old one fills in just a little bit more.

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). One.

"You are loved with an everlasting love" (Jer. 31:3). Two.

"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well" (Psalm 139:14). Three.

One shovelful at a time, minds are transformed and renewed through Word and Spirit. 

*The rut image comes from Holley Gerth.

If the sweet, honeycomb words go right through us with no apparent effect, that could indicate we are believing lies that have become so ingrained in our thinking that they taint even true, kind, and beautiful words. From one struggler to another, here are some principles I am finding helpful:
  • Recognize the lies I'm believing. Vague feelings of accusation, rejection, and worthlessness are never from God. They are contrary to His character as revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. 

    The Holy Spirit does convict His people of sin, but He rebukes specifically, with a view to correction, repentance, and growth in Christlikeness. Angry, blanket condemnation of who we are is the devil's strategy. Other Christians, like the mentor who first told me this, can be of great help in this process
  • Reject those thoughts as the lies they are.
  • Replace them with God's truth and ruminate on it. Some Bibles have a topical index that can help in finding applicable verses for particular needs. Sites like have key word search options. Asking an older Christian is also a tremendous resource to help locate the truth opposite to the lies.

    This is one more benefit to practicing Scripture memory; every repetition of truth digs the new mental rut a little deeper and fills in the old one just a little more.

    It's also the reason I firmly believe that sticky notes and index cards are (can be) a means of grace: truth on the cabinet, truth on the mirror, truth in the handbag, truth on the fridge,... Shhh! Don't tell the decorating police! (That reminds me of another whopper, that I am a failure as a housewife because my space doesn't look like the magazine, the neighbors', the relative's, the television show, etc.)
  • Rely on the truth. At some point, when I have recognized the lies and located the opposite truths, I must choose which to believe and which to act upon.

    If I have been withdrawing from Christian community because of lies I have believed, I need to repent of that behavior as well as the false belief that prompted it.  The same goes for making faces and sarcastic quips to deflect compliments, but maybe I'm the only one here who does that.

    Again, Christian family and/or friends can support us in this process. When Allen catches me shrugging off his kind words, he sometimes calls me on it, gently but firmly: "I said, 'You look pretty.' Are you calling me a liar?" Without that kind of accountability, lasting change is even more difficult.
[There is a level of wounding and depression so deep that even the first step of recognition is impossible without help. If that describes you, I'm so very sorry and pray that the Lord who loves you would bring to you or lead you to the person best fitted to begin restoration in your life. Seeking help is not a sign of further weakness or failure.]
    Other helpful resources I'm aware of include the following:
    Happy digging, Crumbles!

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