“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo F. Buscaglia
It was a warm fall day. My boys and I participated in a run at the local college. We waited until the end to hear the awards given. My boys, especially my oldest wanted to win 3rd place in his age bracket. He’s in cross-country and he’s been training. He sprinted hard at the end and passed up two other people. I let him know that trophy or no trophy, I was so proud of him for running his own best race. I told both of my boys that. Is it fun to win a trophy? Sure! Why not?! But we don’t run to just win a trophy- we run to push our bodies, to prove we can do more than we give ourselves credit for, and to better ourselves. We make our own personal goals and try to achieve them. And always be proud that you’ve tried! So, no trophies on this morning for my boys, but they had their finisher medal and I reminded them of how proud I was of them for doing their best.
As we crossed the street, what I heard next from a mom to her son broke my heart. “Mom, where’s my trophy?” The young boy was maybe ten. She looked upset. She said, “You didn’t run fast enough. You have to run faster.” With bitterness in her every word and disappointment in her voice, I watched this young man put his head down, completely deflated. I could almost imagine the record going on in his little brain… “You’re not enough… you’re not good enough… you’re not fast enough… if only you were fast enough, then your mom would be proud of you.” And a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach arose. I felt like I was going to explode. As calmly as I was able, I said to the boy, “Hey, you should be proud of yourself, you woke up and ran a race when a lot of the boys your age are still sleeping, so way to go!” And the mom just tried to smile, while probably feeling slightly embarrassed, realizing I overheard her conversation with her son.
I got in the van and wanted to cry. If only she had seen his face and realized the power in her words. Maybe I’m more sensitive to this because of my own memory of words that hurt and discouraged. I was in 9th grade. I was never in any sport, never encouraged to try any sport, and didn’t really have the support at home (financially or physically) to join a sport. I was a troubled teen with a very dysfunctional home life. I don’t remember having a desire to even try a sport. Because of never trying any type of sport, I never got to see my potential. I never got to see what I could really do.
It was just another day in 9th grade, and they made us run for P.E. The running team was also out that day practicing on the field. As I ran by I overheard the coach of the team say to one of the runners, “Go run with her.” Honestly, I don’t remember his exact words, only the runner from the team running beside me, pushing me and encouraging me to go faster. And I did. The coach recognized something in me no one had ever noticed. I could run and I had potential. He asked me to join the running team. No one had ever asked me to join a team before. I remember feeling so proud and excited. “Wow, me, a part of a team?” “He thinks I’m fast.” I remember training with the team. I did long distance. I remember the joy I felt running and how good it felt to be a part of something; to be wanted. It was getting close to competition time. I had some old tennis shoes. I never had to buy anything for a team or a sport. The coach wanted us to all have a pair of good running shoes. I went home that evening and let my mom know we would need to buy a good pair of running shoes. “Why do you need that?” “You’ll probably never finish.” And deflated I walked away, the record played in my head, “You’re right mom, I’ll probably never finish.” The next day was picture day for the team. I didn’t go, so the coach sent someone to look for me. I told him my mom said my grades weren’t good enough, so I couldn’t be on the team. (In truth my grades were terrible, practically failing everything, but this wasn’t the reason I stopped running with the team). And that was it. The quickest sport I ever played growing up, in the matter of a few minutes and a few words… over.
I share this story because I have seen words destroy families, I have seen words crush dreams, I have seen words break hearts, and I have seen words completely shatter self-esteem. It’s taken a lifetime of God’s Word over me to counteract the sharp words spoken over me as a child. And I wonder if we realize the power we have with our words? I wonder if we realize the power we have to lift up or tear down? In Proverbs 3:27 the Bible says, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.” When is it in our power to help & encourage someone? How about every time we open our mouth?
Proverbs 18:21- Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Ephesians 4:21– Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Proverbs 12:18– There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Matthew 12:36- I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.
As parents, we have the power to bring life or death in the hearts of our children by the words we say. I want my kids to know that no matter what, I am proud of them and that I will support them in trying new things. We are the little voice in their head. When they are older, they’ll hear a record playing from their years of growing up. First and foremost, I pray they’ll have God’s Word in their head (and hearts). And secondly, they’ll have ours. I pray that the words they hear are positive, encouraging, uplifting, truth in love, and that they’ll know that no matter what, we love them, even if they mess up, and that there’s room for failure here. And that when times get tough, they hear the record playing in their head, “You’ve got this… you were made for this… you can do this…we believe in you…greater is He that is in you… you are loved no matter what….”
Lord, help us to never be stingy with words that can build someone up. Help us to freely hand out encouragement to others whenever it is within our power. As we read Your Words, help our words to others flow freely, bringing life- with our spouse, with our kids, with our friends and family members. Help us to take any opportunity to celebrate others and speak into their lives. Lord, forgive for times when we’ve withheld our encouraging words for others because of our own insecurities. Today is a new day. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Here’s a great video to bring home my point by Toby Mac, Speak Life