Recently the “check engine” light lit up on my car dashboard.
My automobile knowledge is essentially zero, and so I abided by my standard initial response of, “Keep driving for a while and see if the problem goes away all by itself!”
Sometimes this works. This time it didn’t.
Image via Pixabay
I took the car to my trusted mechanics Wes and Leah, a couple who have a garage in town and who not only look after my car, but also are friends and co-labourers in the Lord.
I am happy to take my business to them because they are honesty and trustworthy (John’s Auto in Leamington, ON! Check them out!). For real, my understanding about cars is so miniscule that a mechanic could make up car parts and tell me that they need replacing, and I would respond by flinging my money at them. “I don’t understand what that is, but it sounds bad! Fix it! I don’t care what it costs!”
This time, my trusted mechanics told me that the engine issue was not a concern, and so the “check engine” light was reset and I was happily on my way. As I drove home, it struck me how helpful those dashboard indicator lights on my car are, telling me when my engine is overheating or when my tire pressure is low or when my gas tank is almost empty, etc.
Of course there are other ways to check these things, but the dashboard lights are an easy way to know how the car is doing, and especially for someone like me. I thought about how much harder it must have been to own cars before these indicators existed, when you might not have any idea that something was wrong until something major happened.
These lights tell the story of what’s going on “under the hood,” beneath the surface of the outer car, and that’s an invaluable thing.
And it’s great for cars, but what about us people? If only there were an easy way to know what’s going on inside of us! While cars are mechanical with a certain predictability, we humans are much more complicated, with thoughts, emotions, worldviews, personalities, wounds, biases, baggage, and cultural factors all swirling around in our souls at the same time.
How do we make sense of the inner swirl? How can we know what’s going on “under the hood” with any clarity?
Jesus actually gives us an easy and simple tool:
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Lk 6.43-45)
I’ve come to believe that Jesus’ final words in this passage are some of the most profound that He speaks in all of the Gospels.
“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Some translations have it as something like, “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
And there it is! That’s the answer to the bigger question. It’s so incredibly simple, and yet so powerful.
How can we know what’s going on in the mysterious realms of our inner being, in our hearts?
Answer: Our words tell the story. Our words are the dashboard lights for the heart.
Whatever is going on in our hearts, ultimately those things spill out of our mouths. We can’t help it. We can control our words to a certain extent, but not completely, and not forever, and not with everyone.
Eventually, our words will reveal what’s going on in our hearts. Eventually, our words will give us away.
Angry words overflow from an angry heart. Fearful words overflow from a fearful heart. Cynical words overflow from a cynical heart. Bitter words overflow from a bitter heart. Wise words overflow from a wise heart. Joyful words overflow from a joyful heart. Peaceful words overflow from a peaceful heart. Loving words overflow from a loving heart. Sinful words overflow from a sinful heart. Holy words overflow from a holy heart.
We could go on with more and more adjectives and emotions, but the idea is simple enough. Whatever is going in our hearts will come out of our mouths, and we and others will hear it. And of course, our hearts may experience many of these things simultaneously. Our words serve as our dashboard lights, drawing our attention to what’s going on under the hood.
The problem, of course, is that we rarely pay attention to our own words in this way. We are rarely scouring them for meaning when we ourselves speak them. They just seem obvious to us, the natural outflow of thought, and so we don’t consider them in light of Jesus’ words.
It is much easier to note the peace, joy, fear, anger, etc. in other people’s words. So easy to perceive in others, rather than in ourselves.
And so there are three things we can take away from Jesus’ teaching:
First, we can actively start paying attention to our own words. What feelings/themes/patterns emerge when we do so? If we had to label some adjectives or emotions to our words, what would those be?
Second, we can ask someone we trust to help keep an eye (or ear, rather) on our words. If we can notice these things easier in others, then they can notice them easier in us, and so we need help from someone who can let us know what they are noticing as they listen to us talk. And we can do the same for them. “You sound angry,” or “It sounds like you’ve got a lot of peace in this situation,” or even asking, “If you had to put a label on your words right now, what would that be?” All of these things can be helpful.
Finally, as we start to discern our words and therefore how our hearts are doing in light of our words, we can start to make sense of the swirl of things that go on inside us. As we start to get a handle on what’s happening under the hood, we know how to pray, we know what to take to the Lord, we know what we need to talk to someone about, we know what we need accountability on, we have a sense of where we are at and what needs attention.
The first step of fixing any problem is diagnosing the problem, and our words are an easy way to help us diagnose what’s going on in our hearts. And of course, not everything revealed by our words is a problem, as they can also reveal our hearts’ love and peace and joy, and such things can be celebrated!
Our words are the great revealer of what’s in our hearts, and prayerfully paying attention to them is a wonderful gift that Jesus gives us to help us discern what’s going in our soul, and to help us discern these mysteries and move forward.