Finding the Right Words

Someone asked Jennifer recently about how she handles my big emotions. (Don’t worry, I was sitting right there. It was a friendly conversation. And yes, I have big emotions. I’m okay with that!) And in the moment she didn’t really have an answer. But, being on vacation together with no children gave us a lot of time last week to talk about lots of things and so we talked about it later.

Because I have big feelings, and I’m an extrovert, and I’m a “verbal processor,” (I don’t love this terminology, but I’ll get to that in a moment) the way Jennifer deals with my big emotions is that she provides a lot of space for me to talk.

And talk.

And think… and come back and talk again.

And mostly repeat myself.

And think some more… and talk again.

And talk some more.

Until, I get to the moment where I find the right words and there is clarity.


My friend Peggy reads all my blog posts before I post. (Three cheers for Peggy!) I wrote a post a couple weeks ago that I still haven’t posted because at the time I wrote it, it felt vulnerable and raw. It centered around a quotation that I came across in a book. When she edited it the other day, she said – in the kindest way possible (she’s good like that) – “I felt like I knew all this about you. It didn’t feel as vulnerable to me, the reader, as it seems to feel to you. Which isn’t to negate your feeling of vulnerability…” And I told her, in response, “it wasn’t the idea that was vulnerable necessarily, because I’ve been circling around it for sure, but that  quotation put a super-fine point on what I’ve been trying to say.”

In other words, I’ve been circling around an idea in myself, but I came across the perfect-for-now words that gave me clarity. This is that moment where your therapist asks the question or says something, and for just a minute, everything gets super-clear. SO GOOD!

(The post is sitting, I may still publish it later this week… we’ll see.)

Sometimes, I read because authors have a way of putting into words things that I’m struggling to put into words. And when I come across those things it’s like everything lights up in my brain. This is one of the reasons I love a good book discussion. To me, a great book discussion isn’t just about ideas, but it’s about how those ideas connect to each of us at a deep level and put words to what is also true of us.

It’s the same thing when I listen to the Robcast — Rob Bell, for me, puts things into words that help me get clarity. It’s why I’ve started reading more poetry; Mary Oliver has a way of putting things into powerful arrangements of words that move me and help me “find” myself.


The reason I don’t like the term “verbal processor” is that I think we all need to find the right words for who we are, how we feel, and what we’re experiencing. Even introverts need spaces where they can find the right words.

This is what pastors, counselors, therapists, life coaches and authors do. They help us find the right words that apply to us. It’s healthy and good to find the right words. I don’t know if there’s any other way to growth.

This is one of the things I love about the Enneagram: it’s helped me put words to who I am and how I see the world. It’s helped me put words to relationships and people that I couldn’t understand before.


When Moses encounters God in the burning bush in Exodus 3, one of the first questions he asks God is “what is your name?” Naming things is essential to understanding things. This is at the heart of theology: naming what we know about God. Then rejecting those ideas, and adopting new ones. Rinse. Repeat.

And you don’t have to do it out loud. I came home from vacation feeling connected to my wife in a way I haven’t in a long time, because we had lots of time and space to talk, to name things. But that’s not everyone’s pathway.

Some people need to get there with a counselor, some people need to read a book, some people need to use music to find their words. Some need to write. I know lots of introverted people who don’t love to “talk it out,” but rather, journal extensively their thoughts and feelings about the world in an attempt to capture and name what is true of them.


So, what’s churning in you that’s currently beyond words? What do you need to do to name that thing? Who’s your “safe people” to help you sort it out? Who’s the trusted pastor or counselor who makes generous space for you to talk it out, ask questions?  Who are your people who will let you be what you are, but help you in the journey of finding the right words?

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