"Mum kept saying how lovely your girls are."
I stood in the kitchen with Asha, an intern from our church who now lives with us. Asha is a UK resident, and everything she says sounds so much better with her British accent. Her mother had just left after visiting with us for a few days, and Asha was sharing with me what her mum had said.
Every mother with a heart beat loves to hear compliments about her children. But somehow this one struck deep. Lovely.
What a beautiful word. When you live in England, as an American, it doesn't take long to notice how certain words keep popping up on a consistent basis: "brilliant," "quite," "rubbish," and of course, "lovely".
The more I thought about it, the more I thought about how lovely of a word lovely is.
The Treadmill of My Thoughts
The Greek word, προσφιλή ("prosfilae"), translated "lovely" is found only one time in the entire New Testament: Philippians 4:8. Any time a word occurs only once in Scripture, it's called an hapax legomenon, and it's like a neon sign begging our attention. The biblical author wants to use the word to stress something important, and emphasize its particular meaning.
Paul writes, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." (Ph. 4:8)
The word lovely here means what is attractive, agreeable, admirable.
We are to think about attractive things. The Greek sentence structure in this verse is present imperative, which means it is a command given now but should be continuously obeyed in the future.
We are to repeatedly think on things that are lovely.
Mark Twain once wrote, “What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, not those other things, are his history.”
If I could let someone inside my head, what would the treadmill of my thought-life look like?
If my young girls could see what I dwell on, day in and day out, what vision would they go away with?
Face to Face
But there is another key component to the word lovely that begs to be heard. Lovely, in this passage, is a relationship word as it comes from "pros" which means towards and "philes" which means friend. It carries the idea of being face to face, calling forth love from another.
What I dwell on elicits a response from those around me; I call forth reactions from others. I can call forth bitterness, anger, and fear from those with whom I daily interact. Or, I can be a lovely person who calls forth love, peace, and gentleness.
My thought life directly affects my face to face dealings with others.
I hear my girls playing in the other room, scattered around the doll house, and the mommy they depict is ninety percent of the time the mommy they encounter face to face.
Who do I want that woman to be?
I want to reintroduce this word, lovely, to my vocabulary. But more importantly, I want to reintroduce it to my thought life, and ultimately to my face to face encounters with others.
“What is lovely never dies, but passes into other loveliness, Star-dust, or sea-foam, flower or winged air,” wrote Thomas Bailey Aldrich.
I want my words to be lovely.
I want my thoughts to be lovely.
I want my life to be lovely.