Bone-Breaking, Rage-Taking Words

This is a true story about the bone-breaking power of words. At least if what my sister told me about her friend Jan is true. I’ve met Jan and I think it is.

Jan was a 40-something blonde on her way home from an event in the city. She was lost in thought when roused by a blaring horn.

Suddenly she noticed the traffic piled up behind her—in the left lane on the interstate. She looked back, switched lanes, and drove on.

Seconds later, she was side-by-side with two angry young men in a loud, low car. She read their lips and winced. The passenger guy caught her eye and gestured. You know the one.

The car raced off. Jan drove on.

But within minutes, the loud, low car reappeared—somehow behind her this time. In the rearview mirror, she saw the same rage, and the car tailed her for a while.

Jan prayed. But Jan did not drive on. 

Powerful Words

That’s when Jan did an incredible thing. I am not endorsing it, but this is what Jan did.

She exited at the rest area. The loud, low car did too. Jan parked, and the car did too. Then Jan got out and strolled toward it.

I’ve heard kindness is the best defense, and smiles are disarming.

Then Jan did the next amazing thing. She smiled. “I’m sorry I held you up back there,” she shrugged. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

Now for the last surprise. The raging driver man smiled back and said, “No problem, ma’am.” And he was back on the road again.

By patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.

Proverbs 25:15 (ESV)

Our soft tongues, our gentle words, can break hard things, bones or otherwise.

More Powerful Words

Gideon, of wet fleece, rolling loaf, and trumpet and jar fame (see Judges 6:36-7:25), also knew the power of soft, bone-breaking words. He was a judge of Israel. After his fantastic defeat of Midian, he faced harsh words from countrymen who had not been part of the victory force.

When the jealous men of Ephraim “accused Gideon fiercely,” his words were soft:

What have I done in comparison with you? […] God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?’ Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.”

Judges 8:2a-3, ESV

God used Gideon’s gracious words to soften angry men’s hearts. He can use our words the same soothing way.

Soft Words Break Hard Hearts

I saw the power of soft words up close and personal this week. One night, our son was very late. My husband was hot. Hard walls were up. But we learned more and my husband wrote soft words in a note. The son received the words, with a “Thanks, dad,” and a lately-elusive smile and

That might not sound like much. But in this house, these days, it was huge. It was God’s mighty, bone-breaking power on display.

It was an example this naturally harsh, exacting truth-teller needed to see.

More proof that soft moves hard.

So don’t you want to try softer? Don’t you want to give grace? And for God’s sake, let’s not be afraid to say sorry.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:1 (ESV)

Flowers That Glide: Writing, Dying, & Pride

Flowers butterfly

Have you had it where words won’t come? When your heart hurt so much that it bled, but none of that precious ink would drain through your hand? Could it be that God designed dying seasons with your writing life or pride in mind?

Working, and Writing, in Secret

I’m guilty. I act as if worth is found in public, as if a thing is only of value if I publish or post. My motives for sharing* are not always right.

When I live like this, my faith is weak. When I live for the praise of man, my soul shrinks. I’m deaf to my Lord’s words. “He who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Jesus repeats that again and again (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18) to underscore the warning he gave the disciples in verse one.

What was the warning?

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Do we do our righteous deeds “to be seen by them,” or do “we make it our aim to please Him“?

It’s not a question of if we do the thing—the praying or fasting or giving, or the writing and creative working. Instead it’s a question of why. The biblical way is not that we make names for ourselves, but that we make God’s name great. Our creativity is derivative, or imitative, of God’s. Lest we forget these two truths, God may send his dear workers winter.

Enter “The Flower.” It is a splendid, seven-stanza poem by the 17th-century, English poet George Herbert. It has been a means of grace this week.

‘The Flower’

How Fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greenness? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.
These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an hour;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell,
We say amiss,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell.
O that I once past changing were;
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Offring at heav’n, growing and groning thither:
Nor doth my flower
Want a spring-showre,
My sinnes and I joining together;
But while I grow to a straight line;
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
Where all things burn,
When thou dost turn,
And the least frown of thine is shown?
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.
These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

George Herbert has something to say to those in silent, dry seasons. He knows what it is to be dead to the world and to keep house unknown.

We are flowers in God’s garden that blossom and flourish, then wither and decline. Herbert has learned that whatever the season, God delights when we abide in Him. This is to glide.

And Now In Age I Bud Again

No matter our age, the poem pulsates in us who long to see our words and our work blossom and bear eternal fruit.

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light

Winter is past. Now in age, Herbert the wordsmith buds again. Writing and life and writing life return, refreshing like dew and and rain. George relishes versing.

So hope on, friends. Barren seasons and dry spells are not the end.

Far from it. Dying to self brings freedom and life. “Unless a grain of wheat dies,Jesus told Andrew and Philip, “it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.This death is as a seed “dies” when it is buried in the ground and germinates. Jesus would be crucified, buried, and burst forth—the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

But our hard, outer husk must be humbled down low before flower and fruit can appear. This might feel like the God’s frost, frown, and anger. But, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love (Lamentations 3:31-33). In fact, our dry spells and shrivel’d hearts sound an awful lot like Paul’s thorn.

The thorn was sent to keep Paul from becoming conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7). Our barren time under ground keeps us from swelling, from becoming conceited, and forfeiting Paradise by pride. The Lord does hate pride (Proverbs 6:17-19, 8:13, 16:5).

Because He loves us and wants us to bide in his garden, God acts to kill our pride.

A Flower That Glides

This is not to say all dry seasons are sent by God strictly to banish pride. But it is to say that peace and joy come when we learn to glide.

Which brings us back to that exquisite last stanza. Herbert’s eyes are wide open to God’s severe mercy and uncomfortable grace.

These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

Now he sees his barren season as, get this, a wonder of God’s love. Because in the winter, in the heart’s shriveled, hidden season, he learned meekness and humility. He learned this gift to come down to where we ought to be.

Now the radiant poet knows that he is not his own. Nor are we.

We are not past changing. But we can be flowers that glide.

For behold, the winter is past;
    the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
    the time of singing has come.

Song of Songs 2:11-12a

*To post or not to post? These 10 questions from Kevin DeYoung’s “Think Before You Post” have helped me decide.

2 Ways To Be More Interesting (& More Humble & Meek)

The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.

Proverbs 20:5

He was interesting because he was interested.

Elisabeth Elliot said that about her dad. This isn’t a Father’s Day post, but I offer this accolade to my own dad. He finds others interesting, and that makes him an interesting man. He knows about Israel and Switzerland and Johnny Cash and Donald Trump and baking whole grain bread and raising moms of teens. He’s interesting.

But I don’t think you can be interested in very many things unless you are humble.

Because you won’t listen if you’re a know-it-all, or if you’re too busy to care. You just won’t be interested. Which also means you won’t be very interesting and you probably won’t be very humble or meek.

Meekness means we are teachable and take correction, without sulking or lashing out. Humility means we have a modest view of ourselves that’s the opposite of pride.

Humility Takes A Real Interest

C. S. Lewis has a brilliant description of humility. It’s marked, he says, by a self-forgetfulness that draws others out.

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: be will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The humble one will not be thinking about himself at all. He’ll be interested in you. She’ll be asking you questions and listening to your answers.

Time with humble people refreshes our souls. These people spark joy.

Which reminds me of this other description. It impressed this sometime Chatty Cathy when I first read it decades ago.

His thoughts were slow, his words were few and never formed to glisten.

But he was a joy to all his friends, you should have heard him LISTEN!

Jesus Was Interested

This is not me.

Except for the slow thoughts sometimes. As for Lewis’s description, also not. Since I’m writing about humility, I am clearly not self-forgetful.

But this is who I want to be.

My best friends are this way. Like Jen, who asked, “How are things with ____?” Then, for thirty minutes, she sat and listened.

My aunts, Peggy and Mary, are like this too. They ask thoughtful question after thoughtful question, buckets going deep into my well. Then with nods and smiles, with sighs and frowns, they patiently draw the water up. They ask and ask and patiently wait around, to draw me out.

I think Jesus was this way.

Jesus Asked Lots Of Questions

I think Jesus found people interesting. We know he liked to hear their stories, and he asked questions. He shocked his disciples by his long conversation with woman at the well (John 4).

Scripture doesn’t explicitly say, “Jesus was a great listener,” but if you read between the lines, it’s there. I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t interrupt like I do, and that he did ask lots of questions—questions for which he already had the answers. Talk about the humility. Can you imagine patiently waiting around for answers you already know?

Yes. Jesus Christ asked questions. Here’s a a sample just found in the Gospel of Matthew.

  • Who of you by worrying can add a single moment to his life? (Matt 6:27)
  • Why are you terrified? (Matt 8:26)
  • Do you believe I can do this? (Matt 9:28)
  • Why did you doubt? (Matt 14:31)
  • Do you not yet understand? (Matt 16:9)
  • But who do you say that I am? (Matt 16:15)
  • What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life and what can one give in exchange for his life? (Matt 16:26)
  • What do you want me to do for you? (Matt 20:32)
  • Did you never read the scriptures? (Matt 21:42)
  • Why do you make trouble for the woman? (Matt 26:10)

Jesus asked questions and Jesus listened for answers. Humility is seen in the asking. Wisdom in gained in answering.

When we are quick to listen (James 1:19), we are like our Lord Jesus. We are interested and interesting. We are humble and meek.

Humble & Meek Like Jesus

Here’s what I mean about meek. Many of you know I’m in the last stages of writing my MEEK NOT WEAK book. One definition of meekness is simply submission to God’s Word, His will, and to His people.

Listening to topics we’re not naturally inclined towards is one small way to submit. Meekness is not weakness. Submitting my will to someone else’s wisdom—say by patiently listening to others’ opinions—is one of the strongest things some of us do.

Plus, as Matthew Henry observed, if we don’t draw others out, “We lose the benefit we might have by the conversation of wise men for want of the art of being inquisitive.”

But if we only listen when we have a natural interest in the subject, we’ll never be interesting. We’ll forfeit the wisdom of wise men. But more importantly, we won’t grow more humble or meek.

Because meek, humble people listen. They lower the bucket into the well with thoughtful questions and draw out deep wisdom out as they are quick to listen.

Finally, let’s answer to that question. How can we be more interesting?

You probably figured it out.

1. Ask good questions. Lower the bucket.

2. Listen to the answers. Lift the bucket.

Then reap the benefits. As you show interest, you’ll grow more interesting—and more humble and meek.

In others words, you’ll be more like Jesus.

Do you have a favorite “artful, inquisitive question” that helps draw others out?

😊 Feel free to drop it in a comment.

A Personal Update, 3 Invitations, & A Thank You

photo of smiling woman with invitation

Y’all! I have some happy news to share in this short post. I’ll do that in a minute. But first I’ve got a quick update.

Update #1

I’m nearly done with the draft for the Meek Not Weak (or A Taming Grace?) Bible study guide. Across five summers, 175 pages and a 25-page book proposal to boot, I learned that having real readers motivates me. Because in the last couple weeks, glory to God, I’ve condensed material into an actual-factual Bible study guide.

So this Thursday, Lord willing, my kind Bible study friends will begin a journey through the 12-week meekness study guide. I’ll edit and revise as we go. Then, DV, by November at the Empowered Women’s Retreat, there will be a table laden with a pile of meekness books.

Invitation to Action: Which title below would make you take a second look? Would you let me know with a comment below or an email reply?

  1. A Taming Grace: How Meekness Frees Us To Rest In God’s Hand 
  2. Meek Not Weak: Reclaiming the Gentle Strength of Meekness 
  3. A Taming Grace: How Meekness Frees Us to Rest in Christ When Life is Hard

I’d be grateful for your feedback and your prayers.

Update #2

In 2022, I resolved to submit articles for publication. I was inspired by a Hope*Writer friend who said her resolutions was to get 100 rejections. I didn’t go that far, but I did resolve to submit an article a month. That is up 1200% from the one piece I submitted last year.

The rejections have come. They start the same old way: “We received an overwhelming number of submissions and truly enjoyed reading through all of them.”

I knew the next line well, “We’re sorry that your submission doesn’t fit our needs at this time.”

But last week it said,

“I am delighted to inform you that we have accepted the following devotions to be included in the book. Congratulations on this incredible milestone of being published! We are celebrating with you.”

That’s update #2. The book will be released this fall.

Alert For Idols & Thanking My God For You

Mind you, I am trying to take my own advice and be on the alert for my idols. I’m on my guard for inordinate sorrow—and joy. I want to sit loose, open palms, rejoicing when I abound and when I am brought low. I want to be content in the highs and the lows.

But I admit, with this turn I am both humbled and delighted.

I am also grateful. Thank you for opening “your weekly doses of JoyPrO.” Thank you for investing your precious time in them. To you who share, comment, or send a note, please know you encourage my heart.

Invitation to Action: Is there a “tough topic in the Bible” or a practical “faith meets real life” topic you’d like me to take up?

A quick aside on this “invitation to action” business: the experts content creators must have a compelling call for action to increase engagement. Mine are usually not so explicit. But they’re there: obey, take God at his word, keep on.

Which reminds me. At the suggestion of two friends who mentioned they’d rather listen rather than read, I started a podcast. It’s called Keep On. For now, it’s just me alone with my phone in the closet and hopefully no Milky meows.

But one can never tell how a thing might grow. I’d like to branch out and do some seriously funny interviews and maybe some book reviews. Speaking of which, did you know I’m posting each month’s book club questions?

Invitation to Action: Subscribe to the KEEP ON WITH ABIGAIL WALLACE podcast or send a link to someone who’d enjoy 5-15 minutes of strong grace. Drop a line if someone you know (including you) can make us think and laugh in an interview.

Christ Exalting Is Why I Write

I promised this would be short. But I must add this bit, because this post feels a self-promotional and I don’t like that.

So I share now my deepest desire is that the words of my mouth will magnify my Lord. In other words, I write to make God look big. My earnest prayer is that you, friend, would be built up in your most holy faith as you see how in my struggles God is my refuge and strength. I write to show you that knowing Jesus Christ is the greatest treasure.

All this feeble, fumbling, typo-laden writing is my joyfullypressingon way to do that.

I’ll leave you with Kate Wilkinson’s prayer. It sums up my heart. Him exalting, self abasing, this is victory.

May the mind of Christ, my Savior, live in me from day to day,

By His love and pow’r controlling all I do and say.

May the Word of God dwell richly in my heart from hour to hour,

So that all may see I triumph only through His pow’r.

May the love of Jesus fill me as the waters fill the sea;

Him exalting, self abasing, this is victory.

May I run the race before me, strong and brave to face the foe,

Looking only unto Jesus as I onward go.

Running with you, for our progress and joy in the faith,

Abigail