In the midst of some extremely tough losses and difficult decisions several years ago, my uncle looked me in the eye and said, “I believe in you.” The power of those four simple words profoundly encouraged me. I remember thinking, My uncle Don believes in me more than I believe in myself . . . incredible.
Recently, I was with another uncle over the 4th of July holiday. In fact, he’s the only uncle I have left in this world, and that makes him pretty special to me. We celebrated his 81st birthday, and I only hope I’m as strong as he is when I’m in my 80s. Uncle Bruce has always been a hero in my life. Just before he left, he put his arm around me and said, “I’m proud of you.”
King Solomon wrote, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21, NIV). His wise words still ring true even thousands of years later. We can build up or tear down. We can encourage or discourage others through what we say to them and about them.
I was sixteen and my first boss was a big guy named Ron. He managed the grocery store where I spent the majority of my time during high school. Typically, I stalked shelves from 4am to 8am Monday through Thursday, and I’d go in at midnight on Friday to put in an eight-hour shift. How I graduated with a 3.6 GPA is a mystery.
Ron was tough. He came from the old school of managing people, and he believed the best way to motivate was to intimidate. Unfortunately, he was very good at it. I’m not sure if he had any kind words in his vocabulary, but if he did, he never used them on me.
Why bring up a guy I worked for over forty years ago? Because the negative power of his words are still fresh in my memory. In fact, after busting my butt working for him for months, he said one day, “I’m terribly disappointed in you and in your performance.” (I found out later, he said that to everybody, but it still hurt.)
I forgave Ron decades ago. I carry absolutely no animosity toward him. I realize now that if I didn’t suffer from performance-driven insecurity, I probably would not have cared as much as I did. But his words cut into my soul, and those cuts ran deep.
Why is it so easy for us to be negative? Why do we tend to say hurtful things so often? What sick, dark, and broken part of us prompts us to verbally abuse the people in our lives? We know, from firsthand experience, that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words do, in fact, also break us, and yet we say them anyhow.
I fear that in a culture that values sarcasm and devalues self-control we have become masters of cutting people to shreds with our tongue.
- To put someone else down is to lift ourselves up (or so we think).
- We think it’s funny to leave someone speechless with our witty retort.
- We have drifted from healthy debate and constructive criticism to degrading and verbal ugliness.
Again, Solomon wrote, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18, NIV). What would it be like if our words consistently brought healing? How would it radically change the nature of our relationships with our kids, parents, friends, neighbors, and co-workers if we were known for “encouraging and building others up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)? How would the people around us respond to “I believe in you” even when they blow it and let us down?
Of course, there’s a place for truth, but it is always to be the truth in love. Didn’t the Apostle Paul write, “If I speak in the tonguesof men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love . . . always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 4-6, NIV).
Sounds like love believes the best and always speaks with patient kindness.
May I pray for you?
God, help us to not only guard our hearts, but to guard our mouths. Reveal the source of negativity in our minds, and renew our thoughts and the words that flow from them to others. Teach us to speak the language of love. In a world filled with hate and destruction, help us to be beacons of light that heal. In Jesus’ name and for His kingdom’s sake, Amen.