The poet Naomi Shihab Nye wrote a collection entitled Words Under the Words. I received this collection as a gift in college and I almost hesitated to crack the book because I didn't want to be disappointed with the content after the beauty of the title: Words Under the Words. Like a hidden treasure, a sifting through of what's on top to what lies beneath. There are always words under the words, aren't there? That is where the beauty lies, the richness, the depth of understanding. I feel a longing in my own life to hear the words under the words, to cull the deeper meanings and hidden truths that aren't always evident in what we say or the words we hear. Each word that's spoken is cultivated over an expanse of time that is informed by our experiences, our preferences, our desires, our beliefs, our expectations and our values.
It is the buried words that speak the most powerful stories.
There is a poem in Words Under the Words called, you guessed it, "Words Under the Words." The last lines speak to me this morning:
"Answer, if you hear the words under the words--
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones."
Oh how I love that. Answer, if you hear the words under the words. Answer.
Don't we all crave that answer? When we speak, we want to be understood. When we tell a story, we want people to not only hear the words but grasp their meaning. When we struggle with our spouses or our children, or wrestle with our own shortcomings or sin, I believe we all want that assurance that someone knows our struggle, someone relates to our experience, someone can answer.
This is why I get excited about parent coaching. As a coach, my job is to decipher those words under the words. I get to sit quietly, listen deeply, and discover what is so often hidden underneath. We all hide things underneath. It is a matter of course, of learning to operate in the world without crumbling. Not all secrets need or ought to be revealed in all circumstances. But in coaching, when we face a challenge, what a relief it can be to be heard by somebody whose sole intention is to walk with us through the struggle.
So when a mother is concerned that her teenage daughter is wearing inappropriate clothes to school, rather than suggest formulaic rules or consequences we can talk about values, potential prejudices, and why it matters that we share these thoughts with our kids. We can talk about what we have control over and what we don't, and how to graciously accept our limitations without denying that sometimes we are legitimately frustrated or anxious because of them. So often we feel threatened by the behavior of our kids, even if we don't like to admit to what degree. What does it say about us? What does it reflect to others? How are we to reconcile the things we struggle with with the things that are?
These are all words under the words. Words that beg for an answer. How beautiful it is when we find someone willing to slow down and listen.