The Words We Live By

Breaking the silence.









Today I received word of a review about my writing. It was constructive feedback.

And I was deeply discouraged.

I spiraled down. Down. Down.

I was paralyzed, feeling as if my whole world hinged on one person’s opinion.

“Why continue?” I wondered. My thoughts flowed along in this vein: “I might as well give up writing. I put my all into it and I fell woefully short.  People will see this and dismiss me. I need to crawl into a hole and stay there for a good long while-not show my face. My life is useless.”

Two sentences sent me into a tailspin and made me want to give up, at least, for a while. Shawn tried to console me-to no avail. I started to really believe these thoughts of mine. I was in danger of allowing these words to define my reality. So, I shared my discouragement with a few friends, told them about how I was so embarrassed that I wanted to crawl into a hole, because a hole is where I felt I belonged, because I was a failure.

Slowly their words of encouragement began to comfort me and Shawn’s words, too.

And also, Jesus’s life.

I started to think about Jesus and all of the criticism he received though he was perfect. How did he continue when his very identity, and ministry for which he was created, were called into question-given mediocre and harsh reviews by those who were supposed to know? Somehow he kept on going and thinking of others when everyone criticized him and when his very closest friends abandoned him. He continued faithfully even when he felt invisible and rejected. “How Jesus? How did you do that?” I wondered. I think he was able to do it because he chose to feed on the will of his Father no matter what, no matter if feeding on the will of the Father garnered little praise and affirmation from others.

I want to be that way.

Today, my friend Sharon posted a piece by Ann Voskamp. These words by Ann ministered to me at the bottom of my tailspin:

When the world strives — the wise still. It’s the only way to feel God’s embrace.


You can give up the need to compete in the world — when you accept being complete in Christ.

Sometimes the way to win is to never enter the race.

The words of constructive feedback that destabilized me aren’t bringing forth the end of my world. They do not have final say on my life and on my ministry or on my worthiness. They do not tell me whether or not I matter. When I look at the face of God I see delight. He delights in me, the way a healthy and good parent delights in a child. Those who know me best, my family, friends, and church community, see me and delight in me as I delight in them.

This comment made today has its place. But it doesn’t see me completely. It is not a word on my whole life. It is feedback to take. Not a defining word. Not a word to live by.

I then started thinking about a few of the words that I do live by. I thought I’d share them here with you (in no particular order):

Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can. 

~ John Wesley

I have come that you might have life and life to the full.

~ Jesus (John 10:10)

Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

~Mother Teresa

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

~ attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo

This is what the Lord says:

‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,’
declares the Lord.

~ Jeremiah 9:23-24


Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?

~ Proverbs 24:11-12

What words do you live by especially when things feel like they are falling apart?

13 thoughts on “The Words We Live By

  1. Marlena, you and I are very different people. We didn’t always agree when we worshipped and worked together at Midtown. But I know you to be a passionate, deep thinker. Take the constructive criticism and use it. Keep writing. You have words to say that people need to hear. Be encouraged – it’s easy to critique, harder to be out there for people to critique.

    1. Hi Don,

      Thank you for these good words. They mean so much. We are all so different, yet God has us here in the body, in the world doing our work. You do lots of good work. Grateful for you and your words/work. I’ll take your words with me.

  2. Great entry, Marlena. This seems like the perfect one to break the silence with. It made me realize that I too need more words on hand–words that I can live by–when adversaries assault me.

    I have a few Biblical quotes that I put around my house. I chose quotes that refute all the lies I believe about God.

    For the lie that says, “God gives me grace and loves me, but only begrudgingly,” I have:

    Luke 12:32 | Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

    For the lie that says, “Kingdom work will break me, and people in the Church will betray me,” I have:

    Matthew 11:29 | Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

    And for the lie that says, “You have to work to earn God’s favor and grace,” I have:

    Romans 9:16 | So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

    1. Lyndsey,

      I read your quotes that refute the lies. They give life. I think we can live or die by the words we allow to take root in our lives. Why is it harder to swallow the truth than to swallow lies or half-truths? Maybe because we’ve swallowed them for so long. Good words, the words of God and his truth expressed in different ways, bring life. Let us live by the words of life.

  3. So good! I had a very similar experience. It seems, sometimes, that one harsh word can fell me… Sigh. I loved your comparison to Christ – He does truly understand our weakness. Thank you! I will share with other creatives who need to hear criticism but not be overcome by it.

    1. Jamie,

      Thank you for the encouragement. As I said to Amy above, some criticisms I can let slide. Other ones sting like nothing else. In the middle of discouragement, it is hard to believe the truth that such words don’t spell our doom. It’s hard to remember all the good things we have and in the world. Blessings in your work. I appreciate your comment here. I really do. You took time to communicate. That is a gift to me.

  4. Marlena, thank you for the reminder that we are not defined by other people’s judgments on our lives or our works or our choices, but by God who delights in us knowing him.

    I, for one, can’t wait to read whatever you write. Just like with this post today, you all always a treat to read.


  5. Ministered to my hurting soul right now. Thank you for sharing! Your writing is a blessing! It soothes the soul, enlightens the heart, encourages the mind (and I know that seems a rather odd order, but I mean it – truly and sincerely.) It brings joy, hope and peace. Never stop writing dear one. Never stop.

  6. Dear Marlena, thanks for your beautifully honest words, expressing how most of us feel about criticism, even constructive criticism.

    I know that you receive what others say prayerfully, your soul wide open to Christ in them. I pray that you are encouraged after spending so much of your life listening to God slowly, and writing slowly. That has bolstered me, in more ways than you know, and I cannot wait to read what you have written! 🙂

    I am reminded of some favorite words: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Bueckner)

    Those who have experienced God’s beauty in the midst of disasters will relate in that fellowship of the suffering). You will encourage others to press on, to see the infinite beauty of God, no matter what happens.

    I can hardly wait to read what you have written, dear Marlena!

    Amy B.

    1. Amy,

      Thank you for your kind, encouraging words. We put ourselves out in the world. Even if we do the best we can with what we have, we’ll be criticized. Not all criticism gets me down, but of course, some penetrates. Your words lifted me. Hope I can do the same for you.

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