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At the mall, I picked out three pairs of shoes and waited for the salesman to help me. It was a very busy day, and he caught my eye. “I’ll be right with you, ma’am,” he said, breathlessly.

“Don’t break your back,” I said.

He stopped in his tracks, dropping one of his boxes.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Know what?” I replied.

“That I broke my back. This is my first day back on the job.” He sat down, looking a bit ashen.

I sat down with him. “I honestly don’t know why I said that. But I … I think it means, pace yourself. You’re just finding your feet,” I said, as he laughed at the shoe pun.

We spoke for a few minutes and he went back to work, this time at a slightly slower step. He smiled over his shoulder and nodded good-bye.

I thought about the exchange. It was the first time in my life I had ever used the phrase, “don’t break your back.” If you think about it, it could be taken as sarcasm. I didn’t mean it that way – just that I wasn’t in a hurry.

It was such a small moment, but it made me think. How many times do I want to speak words of encouragement, of praise, of inspiration, and I hold myself back? What if they take it the wrong way? What if they just aren’t in the mood to hear it?

In a previous post, I wrote that I know I don’t have all the answers. What gives me the right to offer advice to anyone else?

It may well be that none of us has all the answers, but together, we can find a way to wend our way down the path of life.

Sometimes God puts words on your heart for a reason. It might be just the small sustenance someone needs to make it over that next hurdle.

Slow down and travel at Godspeed. Speak kindly to a stranger. Say it from the heart and you may end up making someone’s day.

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no-sign

Luckily, I heard the words in my head before they made it out of my mouth, blocking them at the very last moment – like a “No-You-Don’t!” Ninja.

This is what I almost said to an acquaintance: “‘Course it’s her own fault. Can’t drink like a fish and smoke like a chimney and think you’ll dodge the bullet forever!”

A dear friend was sick in the hospital and I was concerned about her, so of course, I tore her down in my own mind and nearly engaged in a form of germ warfare. Because, truthfully, such words are toxic, even infectious.

It may well be that we judge others to deflect the spotlight from our own unchecked boxes.

◘ Never finished that college degree
◘ Never got that promotion
◘ Never found that soul mate

Perhaps we feel so small in a vast universe that we subconsciously seek to squash others – like bugs on the sidewalk in our way, when we could easily step around them – that we steamroller over their humanity, their beauty, their divinity, and focus solely on the things they failed to do.

We do the math in our heads and assume that we can subtract from others while adding to ourselves. It really doesn’t work that way. It detracts from us both. From us all.

If I were to say anything, it should be something like this.

You’ve been through so much in your life, and I’ve long admired your determination. You’ve watched out for me like family from the minute I moved into the neighborhood. If there’s anything I can do to encourage you to take steps to improve your health so I can have you around as a friend for many years to come, I’ll be here for you.  

There’s only one surefire way to safeguard your soul and clear the air pollution of thoughtless comments: put a spiritual Ad-Blocker on your words.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Proverbs 16:24 NIV

CJ Craig: “Mr. President, I hate to ask you this…”

President Bartlet: “Not too late to stop yourself.”

Dialogue from TV series, The West Wing

It’s always a red flag when someone says, “I hate to say this,” or “To be brutally frank,” before they give an opinion.

A friend noticed I’d gotten new glasses. He cocked his head and said, “You really want to know my honest opinion?” That didn’t bode well, so I said, “No.” He told me anyway. “I don’t think they’re the right shape for your face.”

Fie!

I had to un-follow a blog about faith that I really enjoyed when the blogger wrote, “I hate to say this, but let a gay kid in high school get beaten up a few times and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.”

Well.

I hate to say this, but to be brutally frank, that’s not inspirational. That’s hateful.

Imagine someone saying, “Let a Christian kid in high school get beaten up a few times, and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.” Or a Jewish kid. Or a Muslim kid. Or any kid, especially one of your own children.

Why is it some people think that others need to hear a negative opinion that nobody asked for? Do they just like to rain on parades? I wonder what they get out of being a chronic bubble-burster.

I love the way this passage from Ephesians is phrased: “…Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”

Speak to one another with psalms. At the same time, sing to the Lord. Is it possible to do both? It is, when we remember that when we speak to anyone, we’re talking to a beloved child of God – a prince or princess, if you will. That should make it easy to speak with tact and grace. Kindness and compassion.

Sweet as honeycomb.

1I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace. I will boast of all his kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart. Let us praise the Lord together and exalt his name.

Psalm 34:1-3 (The Living Bible)

When my son was younger, I’d sit with him and his friends in our sunroom and we’d chat about whatever was on their minds. Sometimes, it seemed as if this was the only time in their lives an adult had ever asked them, “So how are you doing, son?”

Once, during “Sunroom Time,” one of my son’s friends plopped down on the couch and started flailing a long, sharp stick around. “Honey, put that down. You might hit your brother by mistake,” I said. Problem was, as someone with ADHD, he really wasn’t able to stop. His brother, sitting next to him, grabbed his hand and held it down. Even while restrained, the stick was madly moving around, making “whooshing” sounds.

“Wait, let him go,” I told his brother. “He’s not being heard. He’s speaking through the stick.” For some reason, it seemed that his body was telling him it was urgent to do this, and that he must not stop. I told him to aim it away from the others, which he did. Eventually, the flailing subsided and he was able to calm down.

Communication comes in many different forms. Earlier this year, my cat woke up one day unable to “meow.” He’d open his mouth and no sound would come out. His furry face looked so sad. After a visit to the vet, his voice was restored. That night, at 3 AM, when KitKat “meowed” to wake me up so we could play the Stealth NinjaCat Game (barrel roll into bathtub, dash down hall, slide under rocking chair and zoom up onto bed), I wondered if I’d made the right decision to give him back his voice!

People also speak without words. Waking my son in the morning, I am greeted with a fair dose of “side-eye,” as if his body is communicating: This is madness! You’re trying to wake me up?!? It’s summer, for Pete’s sake! Have you lost your mind, woman?

This picture of Warren Harding’s mistress and their “love child” says more than the entire article. I can only imagine she had a hard life and never really felt the “love” as a child.

Sometimes words can say too much. This neighbors’ dispute over barking dogs lead to an obnoxious sign. I was amazed to read that the couple hoped that writing disparaging remarks on a posted sign would make their neighbor apologize – even though he appears to have done nothing wrong. That sign doesn’t communicate, it exacerbates.

Often, words are merely ill-chosen. When I read this headline on Yahoo News, I was certain that an announcer had been shot during a football game, but it was just a very poor choice of words.

It seems like the Tower of Babel in the world today, with everyone talking a different language, and many with forked tongue. Not everyone has the best intentions when they speak, but here are some words you can count on: God said it. We believe it. That settles it!

 

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