Have you ever been brutally honest and then felt condemned for it?
I am often encouraging others to be in community, to be vulnerable with the Body of Christ, to be real. But it’s also true that in being real, we open ourselves wide to people’s opinions and concerns and judgement—which is a painful process.
In my last book, Counting Grains of Sand, I wrote with ruthless honesty. It’s not just a book about our two adoptions, but also about the two daughters we lost. I didn’t write the book for me, to advance my career or display my abilities, I wrote it for any and everyone who has ever struggled to choose Christ when life serves them agony. I wrote it to show that faith isn’t found in our rightness, but in clinging to the Jesus who meets us right where we are at and breathes life into our deadness.
And because I wrote it for the struggling, I did not completely sanitize it. In fact, in one paragraph that describes my feelings and agony after our failed adoption, I wrote a direct quote from my journals in which I wallowed in lies about what this loss said about myself and God and then scratched out in fury, “What the hell was that?”
I didn’t edit the curse word out when I transcribed it. I didn’t pretend that I wouldn’t dare write or speak curses. Part of me wishes I would have been a stronger person at the time so that when I tell the truth about where I was, I wouldn’t have to admit that I actually cursed in my prayers to God. But the more I walk with others through sorrow, the more I realize why God allowed me to be there, then. Because this is reality for so many of us. We are not made perfect before we experience trials, but instead God works to perfect us through our trials. Which means we carry our roughness, our sinfulness, even our curses—right into our relationship with God.
Recently I had my book returned to me, along with a note that shared a person’s concern that the use of this curse word in my manuscript was unacceptable, with James 3:10 and Colossians 4:6 as the references to back their statements.
It kind of stole my breath away—the agony of hearing that someone disapproved of me.
As I studied the verses, asking God if there was anything I had done that should be changed, or repented of, I found myself drawn deeper into the glory of His grace for me. I want to share a few excerpts from my response to the note I received—and I pray that you will be overwhelmed with His goodness, as I was.
And I pray you will also recognize that this is why community, even when painful, is so beautiful. When we are humble, God dwells with us. (Isaiah 57:15) And in His presence there is life.
On the subject of [your letter], I would like to share a bit deeper with you.
[You referenced] James 3:10. “Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not be!”
The Greek word, katara*, that is translated “cursing” in this passage means given up to barrenness and has an allusion to the term used in Genesis 3:17 where Adam is told that the ground would be cursed and he would be forced to work hard to produce crops.
To curse something is a serious error, and is not at all the kind of life that God calls us to.
And it is an error that I am guilty of. Not in cursing others, but in “giving up to barrenness” on myself.
After we lost our almost-daughter in a failed adoption, I struggled to keep my heart turned to life and truth. It was awful. I struggled with the enemy’s lies about myself and my abilities and God’s presence. And for a period of time, I failed. I was in agony and felt that hope and life were lost to me.
The child I trusted God to bring me had come, and then been taken away. I honestly felt like I could barely take my next breath, let alone function in life.
The single word that you found, which offended you, was not actually the curse. The real curse that I (sadly) believed and spoke over my life was found in that entire paragraph of my writing.
[This portion of the book takes place after we received the news that the child we were in-process of adopting was not coming home.]
Amos cried. Sat right down on the couch, leaned his head back, and cried.
I felt too hollow to cry.
Of course she wasn’t coming. Good things don’t ever happen to me. Motherhood is a phantom. Why would anyone choose me to mother an orphaned child? I have nothing, I am nothing. God, what are you doing? What the hell was that? Am I really so terrible? Am I really not good enough to be a mom?
Let me quote some of the beliefs that I shared there:
- Good things don’t ever happen to me.
- Motherhood is a phantom.
- I have nothing.
- I am nothing.
- I’m terrible.
- I’m not good enough to be a mom.
When it comes to James 3:10, where we are instructed on not speaking blessings and cursing out of the same mouth—this list I just shared is the real error. The use of the term “hell” is not what singularly makes this passage in contrary to Scripture, but instead, the entire paragraph is a picture of a soul that believes horrendous lies that are at war with truth. I did not include this single word to offend anyone. I included it because it was real. I wish I could pretend it wasn’t. I wish I could have painted a picture of someone who dealt with desperate sorrow and still remained a lovely sweet follower of Jesus, who didn’t question or curse or struggle to keep her face turned toward God. I could have sanitized it. I could have dropped four letters from my manuscript and never acknowledged that I was that depraved. But I felt that I should not because it would have been embracing another lie.
As horrible and unacceptable as it is, when I was lost in a pit of lies, that paragraph is the truth about where I was.
I was in error.
And I needed redemption.
So I agree. James 3:10 was needed in my life. In my heart. In my soul.
Not to filter out the word “hell” but rather, to filter out the curses that I was allowing into my heart.
But it was not there that day. And I cannot and will not pretend it was. I was writing about a period of time when I was grieving deeply and was lost to faith, truth, and love.
I wrestled about what to include in my book, and I left a word that could not be ignored or overlooked. That paragraph was a direct quote from my journals. I didn’t write it for others to see, but I allowed them to. I trusted the world with my agony. I chose to make it plain that my beliefs were skewed. I chose to not pretend that at my worst, my speech was clean. It wasn’t. It was ungodly. Unrighteous. I was in desperate need of God’s touch in my life. I wasn’t good. I wasn’t perfected. I was broken.
This is not where I stayed. This is not where God left me. He is a God who actively pursues our hearts. A God who sees our dirtiest, our worst, our agony, our ugliness—and says, “I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.”
I don’t have to pretend that I wasn’t dirty, and broken, and ugly. I can be honest about the true state that I was in, because He came right to where I was, right down into the pit with me, and led me out. Corrie Ten Boom once said, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” And I learned that truth personally, intimately.
But I can’t share the miracle unless I am honest about how ghastly the pit really was. I did not go into grave detail (there is no need to spend time focused on our flesh), but I did share one tiny piece of my heart’s condition—with all the ugliness it contained.
So I agree that this paragraph in my book is not godly. But I shared it for a purpose, which brings us to the next verse you mentioned.
Colossians 4:6 says, Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
This word, “gracious” is from the Greek word charis** which is one of my favorite words ever. The short definition is grace, favor, kindness but the longer explanation is that it is used in Scripture to identify the Lord’s favor—how He is freely extended to give Himself away to people, because He is “always leaning toward them”.
Jesus, our Savior, is always leaning toward us. Pursuing our hearts with love, compassion, and abundant mercy. He desires to extend and give of Himself, in order to redeem us. In fact, that’s the whole point of the cross.
Here is the reason I chose to be vulnerable enough to share that paragraph, the one that was chock-full of horrendous lies, ugliness, and yes, even a swear word: because I want you (the reader) to know that Jesus is always leaning toward you, just as He is always leaning toward me. He is charis. Grace.
So even though I’m ugly, broken, crumbling, and hurting from the sins done to me and the sins I have done, Jesus doesn’t cross me out. He doesn’t give up on me. He doesn’t turn His back on me and say, “When you get life figured out, when you get to perfection, then I’ll turn toward you.” Instead, He leans toward me right now, today.
I don’t know if you read on from that chapter, but if you did, then you would have followed the story to the time I knelt by a pool of water on a tiny island in Alaska and cried out to the Lord, and how God met me and poured compassion on me when I was expecting Him to reprimand me. When I felt that I couldn’t follow Him, couldn’t do what He was asking of me—He comforted me.
And then He taught me about delight. A word that doesn’t mean just to take joy in something, but actually “to be soft or pliable”. This showed me my mistake when we [faced our failed adoption]. I had entertained bitterness and from bitterness pours out ungodliness. But when we soften our hearts in the face of sorrow, allowing God’s comfort in, we find everything we need to survive.
After our first loss, I cursed my own life. But God showed up anyway and led me toward redemption. He brought life to that which was dead and barren, just as He promised. And later, when we lost our baby Annie, I clung to the Father and said, “Blessed be Your name.”
God did that. He leaned toward me. He comforted me. He extended Himself on my behalf and it changed me.
I would argue that my entire book is gracious, because it’s all about God leaning toward me—it’s the answer I have to give the world. The hope I can offer to every broken mother who has lost a child, every person who has failed and cursed their own life, every lost soul on this planet, every Believer who is struggling to hold onto Christ in the face of agony. It’s the best salt I can provide, my humblest offerings that are meant to bring out the God-flavors of this world.
That’s the real story. That’s the heart of this book. How God took me from curses to blessings—not because I was good enough, or obeyed well enough, or had anything right or beautiful in my own life—but because He is charis, grace.
While I was initially hurt and disparaging over the note and its content, those feelings had faded by the time I was done with my reply. Now I am just thankful. Well, not just thankful.
I. Am. Overwhelmed.
I keep coming back to the two verses that were given to me and I feel like the lessons and truths are so deep, I’ve just brushed the surface of them. While this confrontation did not change my decisions on how honest I am in writing, it did convict me and revealed some places that need to be surrendered and redeemed.
This instruction to not “give up to barrenness” revealed much of my heart. I am so quick to do this. And I’m not talking about curse words. I can actually probably count on one hand the times I have used curse words. But the real instruction here in James, about speaking blessings instead of barrenness? Oh, how I need this reminder.
My default is to curse myself whenever something goes wrong.
And doesn’t that sound awful?!
But it’s true. When I received the letter and returned book, I immediately started speaking barrenness over myself in my head. Obviously, I’m not fit to write. I’m dumb. I shouldn’t have left that stupid word in the book. It’s one single word! It wasn’t necessary. I could have figured out some other way to say what I needed to say. If I was actually a good writer, I would have! I shouldn’t have been that real. I shouldn’t have trusted the world with my ugliness. I should destroy every copy of every book I’ve ever written.
And while I was struggling through this, defaulting back to my fleshly responses, returning to speaking curses, barrenness, over myself, something happened.
I was sitting in church, trying to keep the ridiculous tears scrubbed off my face that kept falling, and the service wasn’t a regular one. It was a skit. A skit all about how the Bible is God’s love letter to us. And at the end, our friend, Kyle, began repeating the words of Jesus to the congregation—speaking the truth about our worth to God—and light broke through the darkness of my barren thoughts. Truth overcame lies and my heart was righted.
My worth is not founded in anyone’s opinion of me or my choices. My worth is grounded in who Jesus is. And He claims me, even when I wouldn’t claim myself.
I lifted my head and realized this is Jesus, always leaning toward me.
This is grace.
Praise be to God. Praise be to the One whose charis, whose grace, is never ending. Because I am completely dependent on it.
I don’t know where you are, friend, but I pray this truth about where I am will call you deeper into Christ. He is leaning toward you. He is. And all He asks is that you turn your face toward Him. Everything else required is already completed.
May you taste His charis today.
**5485 xáris (another feminine noun from xar-, “favor, disposed to, inclined, favorable towards, leaning towards to share benefit”) – properly, grace. 5485 (xáris) is preeminently used of the Lord’s favor – freely extended to give Himself away to people (because He is “always leaning toward them”).