We live in a world that bombards us with words. Words from the media, words from our jobs, words from our loved ones. Whether they are written or spoken, words can carry a great power over our lives. Just think, with one phrase “I now pronounce you man and wife,” people can be married. With the words “The Oscar goes to…,” an actors professional life can be altered forever. And then there is the infamous Donald Trump phrase, “You’re fired!”
However, we must also consider the words that go unspoken. Sometimes the implied, the assumed, the subtext, can carry even more weight than the words we actually dare to utter. I think of a time (many years ago now) when I sat drinking coffee with a friend. We had spent most of that Sunday afternoon together, and I knew that there was something she wanted to say but was for some reason holding back. Finally I asked, “how are you REALLY doing?” She looked at me and there was only silence, but in that silence I knew she was hurting. No words NEEDED to be spoken in that moment. Nothing HAD to be said. The very silence made evident that my friend just needed my presence at that moment and that was all.
As you can imagine, I take great stock in words. I measure the things I write carefully, and I store the things that are said to me even more carefully. For me, the things I see leave an impression in my heart, but the things that I hear (good or bad) will last with me forever.
Mark Twain once said, “A powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words… the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.”
So, how do we find the “right” words? How can we be sure that the words that we speak are the words that need to be spoken?
Each summer I have the opportunity to teach swimming lessons to many children. As you can imagine, as with all situations involving children, there are often some memorable quotes that I take away with me. In one of my more recent preschool classes I had a sweet little girl named Natalie. She is one of those children that smiles at you the moment that they see you, and you can’t help but smile back. An infectious happiness. Natalie had never taken swimming lessons before, but she immediately took to the water. Each skill I taught she attacked with great enthusiasm. She would blow bubbles in the water, kick her legs, and even jump to me, in the deeper water, from the side of the pool. On the fourth day of lessons, however, Natalie froze when we went to the far end of the pool. She was not going to jump in no matter how much I encouraged her. I hopped up on to the side of the pool, put my arm around her, and tried to comfort her as she trembled. Finally, after much coaxing she admitted, “If I jump in the water, I die.” Caught completely off guard, I didn’t immediately know what to say to her, but her fear was obviously very real. I allowed her to just slide into the water that day, and we finished our lesson.
Natalie’s mother and father approached me after class, obviously concerned with the fact that their daughter had a new found fear of the water. I quickly relayed the story to them, and as I did, I saw understanding flash across the father’s face. Just the day prior, he had purchased a new video game for the family. In a portion of this game, if the main character falls into the water he dies, and then the player must start over. He explained to me that Natalie had been watching and had asked why they had to keep starting over. Her older sister had said, “well if you fall into the water you die.” Something so harmless at the time, spoken in explanation to a child, had stuck deep in the heart of little Natalie, and taken a great toll on her.
Matthew 12:35-37 says, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
While the anecdotes I have relayed are meant for illustration, I can’t help but to begin to ponder the things that I say on a daily basis. Am I saying things that will be ultimately harmful or helpful to those around me? Do I speak the words that I speak with flippancy or sincerity? Am I willing to accept the ultimate and eternal repercussions for the words that come out of my own heart and into the hearts of others?