I remember it like it was yesterday. I was ditching a class in high school. It was third hour, I think. That is the hour we always ditched. We were in my friend’s jeep. Three of us. We did like we did so many times when we ditched class and went to another school to sit in the parking lot and see some of our other friends. While lounging in the parking lot, one of my friends noticed that something had fallen out of the pocket of a guy running to class. After he made it inside the school, we went to investigate the loot. It was his wallet. We picked it up, left the school, and began to investigate. There inside was an “SCS” card (the prehistoric form of an ATM bank card). But we needed the number. After a frantic search through the wallet we found what might qualify for the number. Immediately we went to the ATM and attempted to make a withdrawal. Unknown to us, the cameras were taking our pictures as three smiling boys were distributing the stolen money.
A few days later at school, a police officer came and got me out of class. He brought me to a room. There were the other two boys who were there with me that day. Our parents were present as well. They informed us of our capture. I immediately turned to my mother telling her it was their idea and that I did not want to do it. The pictures they had on hand betrayed my story as I am seen taking the money with no small smile on my face. It was over. We were caught. The gig was up. I was a criminal.
I did not really know what to think of myself. I was a Christian, but I had done a very bad thing. I knew it was wrong, but what you do is what matters. And what I did was not a good testimony as to what I was to become. While there were no charges pressed (the person we stole from was a Christian friend who did not want to see us get in trouble), we did have to pay back the money ($140 split three ways and already gone!).
A few days later I was over at one of the three friends’ house when I overheard his mother speaking about me (I don’t remember who she was talking to). I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking she was in defense of her son. You’re thinking that she said she should not let her son hang out with me anymore. You’re thinking she was standing by her son saying that it was bad influences like me that were bringing her son down. Not at all. She said, “I know Michael. I know he did this. But you know what? He has a good heart.”
“He has a good heart.” Wow. “He has a good heart.” Encouragement. “He has a good heart.” Did I hear her right? At a time when I should have been brought down low, she said something that would stick with me for the rest of my life. She said something, true or not, that helped me in my self-defining for many years to come. “He has a good heart.” I believed her.
Here I am almost 25 years later writing about one conversation that I overheard about me. That is the impact of words and encouragement.
Proverbs 12:18 says, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Rash words are cutting. Rash words are emotional. Rash words destroy and tear down in a moment’s time. These are the things we say to people when we are out of control.
Wise words are intentional words. Wise words are those which are thinking about the betterment of the other person. Wise words are words that look deep and attempt to ignite the good and discourage the bad. Wise words pull forward. Rash words push backward.
What you say to people matters. There is an old proverb for that, for better or worse, which is incredibly true:
“You are not who you think you are. You are who you think others think you are.”
While I think we need to be careful with this, God has designed the world in such a way that what others say matters. It’s not unlike a mirror. Your self-perception about how you look is determined by your reflection. Other people’s perception of you is a mirror for your own self-perception. Your words effect the way people see themselves. Rash words beat you down and change you forever. But wise and intentional words can establish character and propel people to virtue.
Rash words are easy. They are careless. They are always on the tip of our tongue. Wise words come as a surprise. Wise words are unexpected. Wise words are nourishing. Wise words can build a foundation for a life. Wise words from others are an anchor to the soul.
Those five words that my friend’s mom said about me meant mean more to me than she could ever know. I am sure that she does not even remember saying them. I am sure that if I told her about this story, she would have no idea what I was talking about. That’s the way it works. “He has a good heart” has been with me since I was 15.
How to apply this:
Go out of your way to recognize the good in people and tell them. Don’t stay silent about it. A key thing that I have learned is that silence about the good can have the same effect as being vocal about the bad. Tell them. Tell them. And tell them more. Encourage people with your words. Write them letters. Say things in passing. Sit down and have a talk. Say good things about them in public. When you know they are listening, build them up to someone else. You don’t know how important that is. This does not mean that you don’t correct. But work under the mandate of the 10/1 ratio. Say ten good things for every one bad.
At home, make a habit of sitting down with your children and tell them all the good things about them. Don’t assume they already know.
Tell your spouse continually about their strengths. Don’t assume they already know.
At work, at least once a week, tell your co-workers, bosses and employees things that you appreciate about them. Let them know about their strengths. Don’t assume they already know.
The internet is a cesspool of rash words. It is often so sad that I can hardly read blogs anymore. I especially have a hard time where public comments are viewable. People make a habit of beating others down because it draws a crowd. But the presence of a crowd does not mean you are following the Lord. Due to the anonymity and distance people have, the internet intensifies our rash sinful nature. In the virtual world, rash words flow more than anywhere else. People turn into bull-dozers, wrecking balls, and dynamite, tearing down everyone in their path and not stopping to see the blood spilt.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
This is going to require an intentional life of recognizing the good. It does not mean you ignore the bad, but it assumes that the bad is defeated by an encouragement of the good.
There are many forks that people will come to in the road of life. I came to one of those forks when I was 15. When they make their choice, which direction will your words point them? Who do they think you think they are?
Thank you Jennifer James for seeing something in me. From a human perspective, it could have gone either way.
Please take the time to share accounts of where people’s words changed you.