I was curious, so I googled how many words a person speaks in the course of an average day. I found varying answers, with most sites suggesting that whatever the number is, women undoubtedly speak thousands of more words a day than men do. One study coming out of the University of Arizona, though, concluded that both genders speak roughly the same number of words daily: 16,215 for women and 15,669 for men.*
Of course, it’s going to depend on the individual, but the bottom line is, a whole lot of words roll off our tongues in the course of a day. Can any of us imagine living our lives without words?
Helen Keller did. Because she was blind, deaf and mute from the time she was 19 months old, she had no real concept of language, and her thoughts were only wordless sensations. Instinctively, she knew she wasn’t meant to live like this, and her frustration led to many outbursts of anger. Isolated from the people around her, she felt within herself the deep desire to communicate, and yet she couldn’t; she didn’t know how.
Until Annie Sullivan came into her life, and began to teach her the connection between objects and words using sign language. The story of Annie holding Helen’s hand under the water pump is well known. As the water flowed into Helen’s hand, Annie spelled the word for water in Helen’s other hand. She spelled it over and over until Helen understood and as she put it, “the mystery of language was revealed to me….That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”**
Helen Keller said that when she could begin to communicate with other people, “I was restored to my human heritage.”***
What makes us different from every other part of creation? Some might say nothing does, that we are all part of the one great divine whole that includes earth, water, wind, willow trees, dogs, cats, grasshoppers—everything. But this isn’t true. Human beings are different because only men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
There are undoubtedly many layers to what that means—to be made in God’s image—but I’m convinced that one of the things that makes us different is our ability to use words. We have language. We can communicate.
We all talk to our pets, don’t we? I have to smile when my daughter talks to her rabbit: “I love you, Opie!” Opie lies sprawled on the floor of his cage, his big bunny feet stretched out behind him, indifferent to Laura’s words of affection. Even when she says it again, he offers no response. Laura turns to me and says jokingly, “Do you think he likes me?” Who knows? The only time he seems excited is when we offer him lettuce and carrots.
One day I sat down at my computer and found a message from Laura on a sticky note: I love you! Smiling, I wrote, I love you too! on another sticky note and left it beside the mirror in her bathroom. Her note is still on my desk. My note is still beside her mirror. In fact, we tell each other several times a day those same words: I love you! That’s just who we are; it’s intrinsic to our relationship. One says it first and, without fail, the other says it back.
I’m not much of a talker, but whether I say 600 words a day or 16,000, I have to wonder how many of them are directed to God? And of those that are spoken to God, how many are used not to ask for him something, but simply to tell him that I love him? God gave us the ability to communicate so that we can be in communion with him. And yet after God began to speak to me about my life being a love story with him, I realized I was a dumb bunny accepting the gifts of his love but seldom telling him I loved him in return.
Of all the words I’m going to speak today, I believe God deserves these three: I love you. And so now, that’s how I start my morning prayers, how I begin my day. Knowing how much it means to me to hear those words from my daughter, I realize my Heavenly Father deserves nothing less. In fact, he deserves so much more. As he continues to pour his messages of love into my life, may more and more of my speech be words of love to him in response.
We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19, KJV
**Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, p. 27.
** *Ibid, p. 19.