This morning I received a phone call from someone long removed from everyday contact. I had not spoken to this young woman in at least seven years, and it was a joy to speak with her and get updated on everything going on in her life. My mind wandered back to the days when we visited with her and her mother, laughing and enjoying time together. I remembered part of a song I used to sing with my husband’s choir, “Time flies, things change.” One thing that didn’t change, though, was her picture on our piano and our prayers for her as she grew into a beautiful young lady, at least in our memories.
The apostle Paul had friends like this, people who were like children to him, born again by the Holy Spirit through his ministry of the gospel. Paul’s writing ministry was born out of these relationships, as he continued to disciple and encourage “his children” throughout the regions where he had traveled. We have some of these letters in our Bible, the New Testament, where we, too, can read them and be encouraged and exhorted in our faith. Words may seem fleeting and easy to say, but in some instances, our words have a lasting value that continues long past the moment when they are written or spoken.
We live in a generation of words. Gone, or practically gone, is the day of the handwritten letter with a stamp and envelope, updating friends and family on the events of our lives. We have Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and, of course, e-mail to jot down a few words to keep in touch. We pass jokes and pictures and all kinds of things back and forth, and yet, we still fail to know one another, to really communicate with those who are a part of our lives.
I suppose this week I’d like to encourage my readers to slow down a little and think about what we say. I know of many who, for years, have experienced emotional pain because of a word that was spoken, careless or intentional, creating an open wound that seems to never heal. In school we called this “joking around.” Some call it bullying. Whatever you call it, our words have the capacity to bring healing and pain, joy and sorrow.
I suppose the basis of this thought process is the careless word. It doesn’t have to be negative. Sometimes our careless words are actually blessings, like “I’ll be praying for you” (but we don’t) or “God bless you” (but we aren’t willing to be a part of that blessing). We utter words without care, without substance, just phrases that are expected in the conversation—careless words.
Jesus talked about careless words. “But I tell you that men [and women!] will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” If I really believed this, maybe I would be a little more careful of the things that I say without thinking! The words we speak do much more than just fill the empty space around our heads. They have impact and consequences.
Many years ago, in my small parochial school, I became the object of some of those words. A few of the kids realized that my maiden name, Caristo, sounded a lot like “Crisco”—in other words, grease. Add to that the fact that I am Italian, and a moniker was born; my name was now Crisco Oil! The boys had a field day with that one, and my self-esteem plummeted.
Now being called Crisco oil is nothing compared to what others have endured in the name of “joking around.” And some of it isn’t even joking. The words we apply to others, the names we call them not only embarrass and demean them, but can cause lasting hurt and pain that will follow them their whole lives. We all have heard the story of the young girl who committed suicide because of the badgering, “teasing,” and mocking of her classmates. She was so devastated that she felt she couldn’t go on. James 4:11 states in part, “Brothers, do not slander one another.”
On the other hand, sometimes we utter empty blessings to others, knowing that there is nothing behind them, just filling the empty, awkward silence surrounding another’s need. I see this on networking sites quite a bit. One person expresses a need or frustration or pain, and we all jump in with nice thoughts and general blessings, but do we ever stop to find out what we can do to truly bless that person? Do we ever stop to really make our words meaningful?
We need to take time to consider our words, to recognize that the things we say aren’t just transitory thoughts, but have power to affect others. Our words, our expressions, and even the way we treat the checkout person, can have lasting consequences. When I am down and feeling alone, just a smile can change my day and how I’m feeling about myself. A kind word, even when I haven’t earned it, because I’m kind of scowling, can pull me out of thoughts of loneliness and loss.
Adults, please speak to your kids about their words, how they talk to one another. Help them see that the words they use affect others and can hurt or help. Remind them that name-calling isn’t just a fun thing to do with your friends, but that it excludes and demeans those who already don’t “fit in” with the group. Monitor your kids’ e-mail and social networking pages. Be aware of whether they are being bullied or are bullying others. Intervene and get to know your kids so you can be a part of preventing situations like the one mentioned earlier. And most importantly, model for them compassion and acceptance, as Jesus modeled for us, so they can see it in action.
And when we are ready to speak, we need to do more than just speak. We are called to bring justice to this unjust world, to care for those who without help. We are called to care for orphans and widows, for the weak and the needy. John said, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17,18).
Do you have a friend in need? Don’t just bless with your mouth, but ask how you can help. Is there a single parent who is struggling under the weight of the burden? Offer to give that parent a break for a few hours to find some peace and strength. Is there someone lonely and alone? Join your words with some quality time as you visit and listen to their story. You might be surprised and be blessed yourself!
Mary Kay Gulnt, Pastor