As I rounded the corner last week, I happened upon my neighbor unloading groceries in her driveway. We engaged in some idle chat and for whatever reason, she reminded me of something I had said to her when she was diagnosed with cancer ten or so years ago.
The day I heard of her health struggles, I stopped by to deliver a meal to her family on my way home from work. She specifically recalls me reassuring her during that visit that, “Everything will be okay.”
Thankfully, my friend derived comfort from my words then and apparently still values them today.
And I don’t even remember saying it.
By God’s mercy, everything did turn out okay. There was surgery, chemo, and all the miserable stuff that goes along with it, but she eventually went into remission and continues to live her life with contagious joy.
I started thinking: That forgotten comment at least had a happy ending. How many other things have I said along the way that didn’t have such a positive result?
I thought of another instance, a few years earlier, when my words had a much less desirable outcome. In this case, I remember what I said, it’s just that at the time I failed to consider how it would be taken in by a very tender heart.
I had a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee; it was the first brand new car I had ever owned and I loved it irrationally. (I know that’s a form of idolatry; don’t judge.) In my over-the-top enthusiasm, I was always flippantly sharing – with whoever would listen – how much pleasure that car gave me.
One chilly night in the church parking lot changed all that. I was chatting with a friend after the service and had given my young daughter the keys so she could wait for me in the car. Suddenly, she came running back to where we stood, panicked. I immediately began to scroll through all the worst case scenarios in my mind. Dread clawed up in my throat as I turned to her, concerned she might be seriously hurt. “What in the world happened?” I asked, the back of my neck tingling.
“I locked the keys in the car! I’m so sorry!” She was sobbing uncontrollably.
Was that all? Relief flooded through me like an electric current and I thought my knees would buckle. “Oh, honey, that’s no big deal, really!” Her reaction, though, was what broke my heart:
“But Mommy, I know you LOVE the Jeep!”, she choked out through her tears.
Oh dear. Had I really given her the impression that I loved that SUV so much I would get mad at her for something so minor as accidentally locking the keys in it? I would sooner have rolled that thing right off a cliff than to have her believe it was more important to me than her, and I told her so.
“Cash for Clunkers” claimed that Jeep a decade or more later, but my silly proclamations of love for it still come up in family conversations.
The truth is, I love words. I love to compose, communicate, clarify, and create. My admittedly-lofty goal in life is to “honor my Maker with all I make”. I wish I could believe that my words have been more often encouraging than damaging, but I have to wonder. When have I not used them to honor my Maker?
I’m painfully aware of plenty of situations when my words have harmed instead of helped. Sometimes it’s been unintentional, like the Jeep example above. I was careless with what and how I expressed myself and didn’t pay close enough attention to who was listening.
On the other hand, there have been times when I’ve been hurt or tired or feeling all self-righteous, and my words have taken on a sharp edge. Yes, I’ve been known to use them as a weapon and I’m not proud of that.
Growing up in the South, we were frequently reminded, “Mind your manners, mind your mama, and mind your mouth.”
While that may not be a direct quote from scripture, I think the values are pretty Biblical, don’t you?
Words matter. A lot. What we say just might make a lasting impression, even if we don’t remember saying it or we didn’t really mean it.
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- Maybe This Will Help - February 10, 2017
- I’m Firing Olivia Pope - January 24, 2017
- I’m crossing some things off my list this year - January 11, 2017
- I learned a new word - November 30, 2016
- The best question I’m asking myself these days - July 18, 2016
- A tragic story with a tender twist - May 17, 2016
- Gosh, people are a mess - May 12, 2016
- I’ll take the red carnation, thank you – revisiting an odd tradition - May 2, 2016
- The surprising thing about “weakness” - April 20, 2016
- The holiness of a four-way stop - April 13, 2016