By Cynthia Ruchti

It wasn’t until the third or fourth complaint that I stopped myself mid-sentence. I’d whined about the list of tasks keeping me from what I really wanted to do. I’d whined about how difficult it was to pack lightly for a business trip that long, and in a climate that hot. I started to whine about how busy I’d be from morning until night with responsibilities, activities, and oppor– Opportu–

I couldn’t finish the word opportunities without heavy but welcome conviction settling on me, snuffing the fire of complaints, dousing remaining ashes to make sure the flames were most sincerely dead.

The night before, I’d lingered over some of my favorite passages in Jeremiah. Among the verses I’d highlighted were these from The Message:

“Use words truly and well. Don’t stoop to cheap whining. Then, but only then, you’ll speak for me,” Jeremiah 15:19 MSG.  

Cheap whining. Stooping to cheap whining. Getting rid of the whining served as a contingency of being allowed to speak on God’s behalf, to write on His behalf, to tell stories with His blessing?

I still stare at the yellow highlighted sentences as if seeing them for the first time, curious about what they mean, as if they aren’t among the simplest words in the English language. Words on words.

“Use words truly and well,” God said to the prophet Jeremiah, and through Jeremiah to us. “Only then, you’ll speak for me.”

Only then.

I’d complained about having too many items to fit into my luggage, too many events slotted in the upcoming days, too little time to relax, and a workload that others would have traded for theirs without blinking.

I invoked an instant moratorium on whining for the rest of the day. It lasted almost an hour before I caught myself about to complain that the printer was taking too long.

I can–and sometimes do–use my words to express my impatience, or to communicate unfairness against me or people I care about. How many words have I tossed toward the television screen when the plot of a drama has a gaping hole the writers failed to notice or when the closed captioning is full of spelling errors? How many words do I use untruly and unwell in comparison to God’s instructions to me?

This is one of those moments that can turn the course of a life. And not just mine.

“Then, but only then, you’ll speak for me,” God said. He added, “Let your words change them. Don’t change your words to suit them.”

The stories we write and the words in those stories have the potential to evoke change. But not if we stoop to cheap whining and waste words that could have been used instead to offer hope.

The NIV version expresses it this way: “If you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman,” Jeremiah 15:19. Is there an area of your conversations, your verbal or written communication, that can’t legitimately be called “worthy” words? A sobering thought, isn’t it?