Words to eat. That’s it. This isn’t ever going to change. It was the same at the dawn of humanity as it is in the twenty-first century. We need to eat words, or we’ll die. It’s just that simple. Most people think we need water and food. That’s true for the body, but there’s something deeper that the soul needs, something it can’t go without, something as basic to the soul as air is to the lungs: words.
The immediate questions are (1) What does that even mean? And (2) Which words?
What Does It Mean to Eat Words?
We have four options with words in our world.
- Ignore them. There’s a lot of shouting and mumbling in the world, so we do this on a daily basis. And most of the words we speak are, frankly, probably worth ignoring. This isn’t to belittle language (I have a very high view of language). It’s just to remind ourselves that we often aren’t very intentional with the words that fly off our lips.
- Hear them. This is when the sounds enter our ear canals, but we don’t really respond to them. It’s sort of like walking through a parking lot and noticing a car alarm. We identify it. We “know” what it is, but it’s not worth a second glance. The sounds seem insignificant. We keep walking.
- Listen to them. Here, we gather the words in front of us and stare at them, like we do with a painting. We ponder the meaning, if only for a few moments. And we decide whether something else is warranted: more reflection, dialogue, perhaps a change in behavior. Parents often struggle to help their children move beyond the bus stop of hearing and into the land of listening. That movement requires focus and intentionality.
- Eat them. These are the words that become our rations. We consume them regularly. We don’t just hear them or listen to them; we take them in, and they become part of us. They sustain our hope. They satisfy our longings. They give us energy. We do not trade them for anything. They’re too precious for that.
Which Words Are We Supposed to Eat?
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? And if we could all agree, the world would be a very different place. But without getting into the thickets of discord, let me at least propose three qualities that these words should have, three qualities of words worth eating. The next step is judging whether you have these sorts of words in you, and where you might go to find more.
- Timeless. Words worth eating don’t have a shelf-life. They’re as true and life-giving a hundred years ago as they are today. Throughout the seasons of experience, they stand as evergreens: towering and strong. “The LORD is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). “Surely I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).
- Perspective-shaping. Words worth eating change the way you see the world. They don’t leave you as you are; they take you where they will. This can mean that your old patterns of thought must be shattered and left behind, or that they must be built differently. Whatever the case, words worth eating push you to change; they renew your image of the world so that things you once understood are now mysterious and filled with meaning. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
- Grace-giving. Words worth eating help you give grace to others. In that sense, such words are not merely for your own consumption. You eat them and you use them to give something to someone else: encouragement, inspiration, generosity, etc. Words worth eating aren’t reduced when you consume them. In fact, they multiply in power and effect. They go out from you, who once was without, and serve someone else. Grace-giving words have an abundance that constantly multiplies.
Find Your Food
If your soul is hungry, that’s because it’s meant to be hungry. It’s meant to seek after things that are greater, deeper, and wider than temporary satisfaction and comfort. You and I are destined for deeper things. And what we need to find those things are words worth eating. In that sense, we’re all tasked with finding our own food. But there’s no shortage, not from the God who always speaks.
Pierce Taylor Hibbs (MAR, ThM Westminster Theological Seminary) is the award-winning author of Theological English. He’s also written more popular books such as The Speaking Trinity & His Worded World and Finding God in the Ordinary. His latest book is called The Book of Giving: How the God Who Gives Can Make Us Givers. Read more of his work at piercetaylorhibbs.com. To get free downloads and communicate with the author, sign up for his mailing list at http://piercetaylorhibbs.com/subscribe-and-connect/.