In a recent New York Times op-ed, journalist, historian, biographer and keen social observer Simon Winchester wrote about the most complex word in the English language.
Seems the linguists who are working on the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (place your pre-order now; it’s due in 2037) have been trying to determine the answer to that pressing question. How? They have been comparing the length of the entries for certain words in the past several editions of the OED.
What do you think is the most complex word in our language? That’s not an easy question to answer since there are about 750,000 words and senses in our language. Add to that the fact that all language is dynamic and shifts over time. There are, in our lifetime, words that have fallen out of broad usage or had their most evident meaning fundamentally changed. (think “gay”)
In the first edition of the OED (1928), the mother of all words was “set”. The entry for that word consumed 75 columns of type, with 200 senses of the word. It carries the sense of strength, stability, certainty and conservatism.
But eight-plus decades later, we have a new top word. Peter Gilliver is the lexicographer assigned to the letter R in the OED. After 9 months of work, he has identified 645 separate meanings of the verb form of the word “run”
After all, you can run a mile or run an idea up the flagpole. A ship can run aground, a politician will run for office, a car can run out of gas or run over a skunk. A baseball player can run the bases or a basketball big man can run the floor. A child can run a fever, a horse can be an also-ran, and heart problems can run in your family. Winchester notes, “Explaining why “run”has so greatly expanded its semantic territory is more difficult. The word has exploded with the increase in the number of machines and computers: a train runs on tracks, a car runs on gas, an iPad runs apps. But simultaneously, there have also been countless revivals of antique non-mechanical senses: you now run out on someone, you run something past someone.”
Doesn’t this raise intriguing questions about the underlying state of a society that would move so decisively from “set” to “run”? Again, Winchester
notes that there is a “deeper reason behind the acceleration of “run” and the
enervating stodginess of “set.” It reminds us of the difference between static
and mobile, between energy and solidity — why dear old clubbable, sedentary and generally contented “set” has at long last been outstripped by sweaty, muscular, fitness-obsessed and six-pack-muscled “run.”
Running has become a way of life for us. We are in a state of perpetually frantic motion. Family schedules are jammed with competing and over-lapping responsibilities, activities, and commitments. People hit the ground running when the alarm goes off in the morning and pursue something until they collapse into fitful sleep. But like greyhounds chasing a fake rabbit around a closed-loop track, our running often goes nowhere.
Why do so many of us live like this? At least a part of the answer is that we are simply afraid. We are terrified that we will miss an opportunity or that our career will stall, scared that somebody else will have more or we’ll have less when the economy tanks again, afraid that our kids won’t get what other kids get, uncertain of approval from people who matter most to us, or concerned that we won’t be seen as cool or will be seen as old and out of it.
So, we run, because that’s what you do when you’re afraid.
But the running has also become a way of soul for us. It’s not just calendars and bank accounts; it’s affecting us in deeper ways, at the intersection of soul and God. For many, contentment is a misty memory of a previous age. Peace, not to mention the expansive and joyful wholeness of shalom, is a distant dream. Our spiritual lives are often a frantic running pursuit of church activity, religious duty and use of acceptable Christian products all shaped by thoughts of what we “ought-to” “have-to” or “should” do for God.
Why do we have spiritual lives like this? We are simply afraid. Afraid that we haven’t done enough to measure up, terrified that we haven’t placed enough weight on the good side of the justice scale, frightened that we’re missing blessings that somebody else has, scared that somebody will find out that we’re not nearly as spiritual as we claim to be, uncertain of God’s approval, concerned that when it’s all over, our life may be an epic fail.
So we just run, because that’s what you do when you’re afraid.
In other words, breathless spiritual running may not signal passion, urgency or effectiveness. It may simply be evidence that we have fallen from grace and are trying to do this Godward life of heaven’s Kingdom in our own earthly strength. Or that we have forgotten our own gospel: the good news that I am…
a rebel who is forgiven and welcomed Home by my heavenly Father;
a dying sinner rescued by the bloody cross and empty tomb of my Savior;
an unrighteous beggar freely given the riches of His righteousness;
a spiritual orphan adopted as God’s child and heir;
a mess who is loved and fully accepted by the King of angels;
a desperately weak man made strong by the sufficient grace of Jesus;
a disciple whose every Christ-ward act is enabled by the indwelling Spirit.
Is there an alternative to running to exhaustion for God? Yes. Hear Jesus…
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest…Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matt. 11:28-30, ESV, MSG)
Such rest is neither passive nor emotionally disconnected. It is active trust in the good and complete provision of Jesus for every aspect of our lives, whether we label it spiritual or not.
Rest is pervasive contentment, because Jesus is enough.
Rest is deep peace, because since Jesus is bigger than everything, we don’t have to be afraid of anything.
So, if your life is going to be defined by running, just make sure you’re running to Jesus…and rest deep in Him.