I grew up in a war zone. My bunker was my bedroom where I dug deep into the recesses of my inner being searching for safety. It was a quiet retreat void of the verbal landmines so carefully hidden from view, triggered by innocent questions, suggestions or requests. I feared words, never knowing when something I uttered would detonate a deadly explosion.
I also loved words. I loved to read and write them. Because a spoken conversation could bring about a surprise attack, I much preferred to write out my conversations. Today, some 50 years later, I recognize that my love for and comfort found in writing out my prayers to God is deeply tied to this early practice.
For a while during my formative teenage years (13 through 16), my mother and soon-to-be stepfather spent many weekends traveling. My two younger brothers, both legally blind, were needlessly (more for convenience than necessity) sent 2-hours away to live at a state run home for the blind.
Although I had once been responsible for the bulk of their care while my mother worked – even being required to forego after school clubs and extra curricular activities in order to care for them, help them with homework, stay home from school if/when they were sick, prepare dinner and keep the house clean – my brothers were suddenly removed from my care and I was left in an empty house – alone. I still remember the terror of being by myself in that big house as night fell. Sadly, the house provided more safety in its vacant posture than when inhabited by the adults in my life.
It was almost two years before I was permitted to see my brothers again – formative years for them, too (4 and 8 years younger than me) – I can’t imagine the terror they endured. It was a very dark and lonely time.
Today, I no longer live in a war zone. I am free to lay my silent weapons down.
My home is filled with the colors and expressions of beauty that I love. It is a warm space that offers rest, kindness, goodness and peace to those who enter. It is a place of play for my grandchildren and a respite from a busy week of work. It is a place that is filled with the artistic expressions of my husband’s woodwork and the music he creates on his guitar and ukulele. It is a place that wafts the fragrance of good meals and boasts the joy of laughter shared.
In this true place of safety, it is unnecessary for me to construct mental bunkers – but I sometimes still expect enemy attacks where no enemy exists or cast a suspicious eye on conversations that offer the goodness for which I long. It is what being raised in a war zone has cost me – I see danger everywhere.
I am learning to come out of the bunker of silence and speak, sing, shout with the freedom of good thoughts formed into good words expressed.
By God’s redemptive goodness, in my professional life, I live in a world of words. I teach and write with words. Today my words, rather than being ridiculed, battled or dismissed as insignificant, are entertained, considered, honored and sought after. It is a beautiful exchange that I am learning to accept.
But it’s a struggle.
I recognize that I don’t do well with words when I feel “put on the spot” for an answer.
The fear of words that might shame me or harm others hangs with a threatening fist raised. I know too well the crushing blow it can wield.
What do I do when the struggle to withhold my words still rages against the good?
The Psalmist said, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). The words God gives bring life out of death. I am learning to trust the words He gives and to walk out into even a potential battle to speak the truth in love.
I wonder if you can identify with my words today? I pray you will be courageous – come out of your mental bunker and face the danger of remaining bound in the fear of your words. Because good words – whether written or spoken – are needed, welcomed, honored. Good words bring life.
Christine Browning is a lover of story—including her own. She loves to hear and longs to respond well to others’ stories. A late bloomer in the field of education, it is her absolute delight to teach at Milligan College in East Tennessee. She also counsels women who have experienced trauma and abuse. Christine is the mother of three adult children, three incredible grandchildren and has been married for 42+ years to her delightfully playful husband, Tom.