“When you see something beautiful in someone, tell them. It may take a second to say, but for them it could last a lifetime.” I saw this quote on Facebook today. I took note of it because I knew I would be writing this blog on speaking life to others. What does it mean to speak life? It is exactly what it sounds like. Words are powerful… after all, isn’t that why you are reading this article? Words can hurt or words can heal. Words of life communicate that the other person has value. Words of life build up the other person. Words of life consider the feelings of the other person.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am very snarky. When I say “very”, I mean I am the definition of snarky. I joke that snark is my love language. However, snarky words and words of life do not really go together. I learned a long time ago that you cannot say whatever pops into your head. That will get you into a lot of trouble. A LOT of trouble! Speaking life is the opposite extreme of speaking snark. While words of life may not be my natural bent, they are important and necessary. Here are some ways that I have learned to speak words of life.
- Words of life are important because other people matter. This may sound like a common-sense statement. I sincerely hope it is a common-sense statement for you. However, all you have to do is spend a few minutes out-and-about in our world and you will see that this is not common sense for all of us all of the time. We are all guilty of ignoring the other person. It happens. We get busy or bored or frustrated or angry or impatient. But in those moments who are we thinking of–ourselves or the other person? Other people matter. We are all made in the image and likeness of God and that is why other people matter. Certainly, we have differences, some positive and some negative, but we are all of equal importance in the eyes of God. Do your words to others reflect that they matter? I have learned to exercise words of life in the simple everyday situations I find myself in, such as ordering food at a restaurant. The next time you go to a restaurant pay attention to how you and those around you order. We usually say something such as, “I want the…” or “I’ll have the …” or “Give me the…”. There is nothing inherently offensive in those statements. After all, the server has most likely asked you want you want to eat. But what if we all made the effort to ask for our food, rather than demand it? What if, instead of “Gimme the steak and baked potato,” we chose to say, “May I please have the steak?” Or maybe you are in need of some assistance at a store. If you were the employee, wouldn’t you prefer to hear someone ask for your help rather than demand your help? Words of life do not have to be grand or deep or profound. They need to be spoken with an understanding that other people matter just as much as you do.
- Words of life are important because they edify. Edify is not a word you hear very often anymore. It means to build someone up. It means to improve the other person morally or intellectually. Edifying someone is the exact opposite of tearing someone down, which I know I do not need to define for you. Let me share a story from my own parenting in which words of life were used to edify my daughter and me. When my youngest daughter was in early elementary school, she had the opportunity to play the piano to a room full of families during a talent show. My daughter has always been ultra-shy. I didn’t force her to play the piano for the talent show. She played because she wanted to play. However, when she sat down at the piano to play, she froze. Insert the sound of birds chirping here and you will know what that moment was like. Well, it actually was not one moment. She did this more than once, as the talent show was an annual event. Every year she would sign up to play the piano for the talent show, and every year she would sit down at the piano and freeze. The last year that she sat down and froze I remember walking up to her and quietly whispering something to her. I do not recall my exact words but it was something along the lines of, “You can do this. You know how to play your song. It’s okay if you need a minute to be ready. However, if you are not able to play, that’s okay. We can try again another time.” At that moment, she got up from the piano. She was not ready to play. I vaguely recall addressing the crowd with a comment such as, “She’s not ready today but she will try again another day.” And you know what? The next year she was ready and she finally played the piano in the talent show. However that last year when she froze, after the talent show ended, Gary Ezzo walked up to me and said, “That was beautiful! You spoke life to your daughter!” To be completely honest, I did not say what I said to her with the intention of speaking life to my daughter in that moment. It was not a methodically thought-out statement intended to motivate her or persuade her to finally playing the piano. No, what my words were in that moment were a reflection of what I felt in my heart. I knew she could play her song. I also knew she might not be ready. And, I also knew that one day she would be ready. I could have threatened her to play the piano. I could have bribed her to play the piano. I could have shamed her into playing the piano. But what good would any of that have done? And, had I done those things, who would I have been thinking of in that moment? It certainly would not have been my daughter. Those kinds of words would not have edified or built her up. Those kinds of words would have only torn her down. Instead, I chose words that built her up and allowed her to keep trying to play that piano solo until she was finally able to follow-through. But my daughter was not the only one who had words of life spoken to her that day. I will never forget Mr. Ezzo’s words to me that day, because in telling me I had spoken life to my child, he was actually speaking life to me as well. As a man that I admire and consider a friend, he took just a moment of his day to pat me on the back and build me up in my parenting efforts. He spoke life to me that day. His words made me a better parent that day. Parents, we need to edify our kids. And, parents, we also need to edify one another.
- Words of life are important because they are positive. I purposely put this statement in this blog, because it addresses my snarkiness. Not only am I snarky but I am negative. I suppose those two things go hand-in-hand. A good dose of negativity goes a long way to being queen-of-the-snark sometimes. But that is a whole different blog topic for a whole different blog! Early on in my young married life, I realized that I was a negative person who often assumed the worst about everyone and everything. I was convicted that if I was to change my thoughts and words, I would need to take those negative thoughts and words captive and replace them with something else, something better. Anytime we decide to remove something negative from our life, we need to make a conscious effort to replace it with something positive. Otherwise, the hole that was left behind will be filled up with something else, most likely a new type of negativity. In my conviction, I decided that every time I observed someone or some situation and had a negative thought or word, I would purposely think or say something positive that it might be instead. For example, I can recall seeing people walking along the side of the road and wondering what awful thing must they have done to end up walking along the road with no purpose. Once I realized I was making these negative assumptions about others, I decided to assume positive things. It has become a mental exercise that I use to this day. If someone speeds past me in their car on the road for no obvious reason, I will choose to believe that wherever he needs to be is really important. Maybe it is an expectant father whose wife is in labor. Or maybe it is an adult child whose parent has just been rushed to the hospital. The idea is to assume the best in a situation, rather than the worst. When I end up in the check-out line with the grouchy cashier, rather than being grouchy back, I try to be thoughtful. I thank her for her help. I address her by name if she is wearing a nametag. I look her in the eye. Who knows why she is grouchy? Maybe something awful happened in her personal life. Maybe every person that has come through her line has been rude. It really does not matter why she is grouchy. What matters is my response. I can choose to assume the best and be positive and speak words of life.
Words of life are powerful, freeing, and meaningful. There is so much more to be gained in recognizing that other people matter, in building others up, and in assuming the best of others. I will leave you with the same quote that I started with. “When you see something beautiful in someone, tell them. It may take a second to say, but for them it could last a lifetime.”
Tricia McDonald is the wife of a newly retired Army Sergeant Major and a mother of three amazing children, ages 17, 18, and 22. She recently gained a wonderful son-in-law as well. She currently resides in North Carolina, where she homeschools her two youngest kids. Tricia enjoys reading and is passionate about U.S. History. She also volunteers as the music coordinator for a local semi-professional youth theatre group. She would like to encourage young moms to enjoy each moment, as the years really do fly by quickly.