Watch Your Words
In a short video of a niece learning to say Mama, the camera was focused on the child, but you could hear her mother in the background saying, “Say Mama.” After a bit of encouragement, Eva finally said a very clear, “Maaa Maa” She then glowed under her mother’s praise. One little word brought great joy to mother and daughter.
And so it is as a child learns to speak. I still smile when I think of our firstborn learning to say telephone. Nobody else would know that “yeahyown” meant telephone, or that “got for” meant forgot, but we understood. We thrilled in watching his development as he learned to communicate.
I heard the same thrill in Eva’s mom as she coaxed her daughter to show off her new skill. Learning to communicate is an exciting adventure.
It occurred to me that teaching words is just the beginning of the process. Adding vocabulary and learning how to put it together so it will be understood is the easy part. Learning the importance of the impact words have on others is the real key to life-giving communication.
In Proverbs we learn that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Pr. 18:21). Today, it has become much too common to use our words to hurt and destroy those we don’t agree with.
As reports come out of children committing suicide because of constant bullying, we see the ultimate power of the tongue for death. Indeed, negative talk does carry the power of death.
So, I wonder, does the hatred and vitriol that is expressed on social media, in the news, and on the airways really represent the heart of our culture? It is obviously within the culture, even if it isn’t the heart. Even if it’s coming from a vocal minority rather than the majority, it is creating destruction. It will lead (is leading) to death rather than life. And that is reason for concern.
But there is also life in the power of the tongue. As individuals we choose whether to use our words for death or life, but we rarely stop to consider that our words contain power, or that the power of our words is communicated through the tone of our voices as well as the choice of our words.
Think of the power in the words, “I love you,” “I care,” “Can I help you?” “Good job,” or “I appreciate you.” Those words carry grace, comfort, encouragement, hope, and more, depending on the moment.” They heal, build up, and strengthen the hearer.
There have been times when Robert and I have had disagreements and I was hurt by something he said or did. (Not that he was always wrong, often–probably most of the time–I’m hurt because of my expectations, but in the moment, it feels that it was something he did.)
We can come to an impasse, where misunderstanding and hurt get in the way of communication. If we say anything else, it’s liable to cause more harm than good. We’ve learned to be quiet (most of the time) rather than say the wrong thing.
In the quiet, my heart cries, “Just hold me and tell me you care for me and that you didn’t mean to hurt me.”
Sometimes, the power of the tongue is simply to hold it until you can speak words of life.
Sometimes, two little words, “I care,” can turn a conversation around to one of life rather than death.
Life-giving words can be as simple as a greeting to welcome a stranger, a call to a widow, a word of praise for a child’s imperfect attempt at a picture, . . . . The possibilities for sharing words of life are endless.
Sadly, the most difficult place to be a source of life-giving words is probably in the home, or maybe on the job if we have co-workers that are difficult. It’s the people we are most familiar with that we expect the most of, that tend to offend us the easiest, and that we tend to take for granted.
And yet, they, along with the outcasts of society, are also the ones who most need to receive life from us.
Of course, that involves more than words. In order to be true life-givers, we need to respect others, to empathize, have compassion, and think of their needs rather than just thinking of ourselves. Those attitudes come from the heart, and so do our words (Pr. 4:23).
For my niece, hearing her 10-month-old say, “Mama” was like hearing her say, “I love you.” It filled her with joy. And it filled Eva with joy to hear her mother’s praise, even though she didn’t understand the words.
In the midst of the caustic comments that fill the air, we can make a difference. However, if we want to be the ones that share sunshine and life to others, we need to choose life, not death. We need to watch our hears and our words.