Take Words with You
Just read. Don’t look up, don’t stop, just read.
I made it a full four verses before I reached over to pull the side drawer open, hoping I wouldn’t notice myself. I pulled out a pen and scratched a few words in the margin.
Don’t do it. Don’t follow the thought. Just read.
I set the pen down and read another four verses, only to glance over and see my hand fumbling in my backpack for the notebook. I shorthanded observations on the page, rushing to see how much I could scribble before I made myself stop.
Close the notebook. Put down the pen.
Seriously. Just read.
And then, I stepped into just one more verse before I felt color leave my face and heard a sound escape my throat that the thesaurus won’t help me name. A hand instinctively covered my middle, perhaps to hold in the sudden churning there, as the words, now swollen, pulsated on the page: You are not my people, and I am not your God.
I sat still a while, then returned to the reading.
You can absorb later. Just read.
Took me three sittings, so I can’t call it straight-through. But it was a record for me, really. I cleared the finish line of Hosea’s fourteen chapters with only a few notes and etchings, and no side study.
All because of this half-sentence at the start of chapter fourteen: Take words with you.
Hosea is excruciating stuff. It’s not like I didn’t know that. But it strikes me more, perhaps, in this compressed reading that God’s heart in these chapters swirls together into a big bubbling mess of love and anger and compassion and wrath and jealousy and tears and did I say love and anger?
His heart — it’s wounded and violated. It’s broken.
The book is full of pleas and wondering from the One that put the earth in orbit:
Does that not make you weep with God?
His love, His desire, His bride — she sold herself, and not even to the highest bidder. Just to whatever joker might give her a dime.
I needed all that in front of me when I went back to read those four words again: Take words with you.
What do you say, in words, to God when you return from your rebellion? What words do you take with you when you crawl back, soiled and stained, to a brokenhearted God?
I’m reading of, and practicing, that prayer that comes without words — the prayer that comes in groans. How do we pour out those things our hearts ache to say but cannot express within the confines of language?
Matt Woodley says this:
You try to pray, and you want to pray. You stammer, but the words get lodged in your throat. As a friend of mine said regarding the pain of a wayward child, ‘When I try to pray about it, it’s like trying to pick up a fallen electrical wire. It’s too hot; I can’t even touch it.’ All you can do is turn Godward and groan your anguish. But according to the Bible’s view of our prayer life, your God-directed groans are connecting you to God. God says, ‘Because of the . . . groaning of the needy, I will now arise’ (Psalm 12:5). The Spirit who dwells within in you is interceding to God the Father for you. Groaning — the most primal, inarticulate and guttural form of communication — is imbued with trinitarian wonder. Groaning is God’s prayer within us.*
God’s Spirit steps in where we cannot speak. Where words fail.
We know this. We’ve lived this.
And yet, in a moment when perhaps even God would groan, He says take words with you.
Come ready to speak to Me.
In these moments it seems far easier to throw myself at His feet and just groan. He knows my sin. He doesn’t need me to spell it out for Him.
But does He want me to?
Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
Take words with you
and return to the LORD.
Say to him:
“Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips.
Assyria cannot save us;
we will not mount war-horses.
We will never again say ‘Our gods’
to what our own hands have made,
for in you the fatherless find compassion.” (Hosea 14:1-3, emphasis added)
In this take words with you does He suggest that we own our rebellion? That we name our waywardness? That we look Him in the eye and, in painful specifics, put words on how we fall short?
It seems to me that might be what we call confession.
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From the archives, just because I've been thinking about this one lately. Quoted from The Folly of Prayer: Practicing the Presence and Absence of God, by Matt Woodley Photo: Ink Textures by fugue Related: The Folly of Prayer