This Christmas one of my favorite gifts was given to me by my brother-in-law, Stephen.
His gift was a heartfelt letter telling me in great depth what I mean to him, the ways I have influenced his life, and how overjoyed he is to have me in his family. He has been grieving their mother’s death, and he talked about how I have helped him process his emotions and find words for them. How I have helped shape his character by challenging him to dig into the deep areas that he has avoided. And how that was exactly what he needed.
He also talked about the influence my relationship with Adam has had in his life. He said…
“You and Adam have become an example for me of what a healthy relationship is and one that I hope to resemble one day. You have already gone through more in your life than anyone ever should and I believe that is why I am able to look up to you so much. You are an optimistic and loving person and one that I am ever grateful to have in my family. I love you sis.”
He gave me the gift of words.
Sure he’s a poor college kid and that might have been a large part of why he dug out some college ruled paper and a pen for his Christmas presents this year, but it was a sweet and meaningful gift that I will keep for years to come. It was genuine and from the heart. It was intentional and raw and beautiful.
Which really has got me thinking about the power that our words have.
I recently read a fantastic blog about the power of words by Ann Voskamp. She talks about the recent controversy with the Duck Dynasty Crew. And about the PR exec who ended her career–and her reputation– with a mere 140 character tweet.
Whoever said sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you?
Was dead wrong.
Ask a bearded guy from Louisiana or a tweeting PR exec en route to Africa to comment on that.
Don’t ever forget it, kids:
There is nothing more explosive than words.
Words are nitroglycerin. Words can literally ignite a heart, detonate like a global bomb — or explode in your face.
For those of you who haven’t read those particular stories, what was said in each case is less important than what we can learn from the swirling controversy of hate, anger, hurt, and justification. People reacted with strong thoughts and opinions, defending each side for a litany of reasons. Twitter and GQ lit up social media around the world like the Fourth of July….with the power of words.
Words are matches.
Small in size, but can be useful, purposeful, helpful….or can burn down an entire forest.
The bible says words can be used to bless or to curse. It doesn’t say they can be neutral or bland or unnoticed. Blessing or curse. Gift or destruction. There’s not a lot of space in between.
Whether you want to admit it or not, you are doing something with your words, and that something is either good or bad. Black or white. There isn’t gray area when we open our mouths to speak to someone who has hurt us deeply. Or when we flag down a waitress after we’ve been waiting 15 minutes for a beverage refill. Or when we talk to a family member that has made a decision we disagree with.
Our words matter. A lot.
Adam used words when he asked me the question that changed my life.
I have had friends speak words of grace, truth, and love that have quite literally healed broken parts of my heart.
I have also had friends use their words to cut and sever, to change our relationship and damage it beyond recognizable form.
We live in a society that has done it’s best to numb us to the power of words. Words are no longer rare and treasured, carefully and thoughtfully written out, placed into a letter and postmarked to arrive to an intended recipient in a few days. Rather, without spell-check or second thoughts, without consideration of repercussion, with the touch of a single button… they are sent globally.
With avenues like Twitter and Facebook, we have been given just enough rope to hang ourselves with our words…daily.
We now all have equal opportunity to become a viral social media sensation, and rarely are the viral stories neutral. People gain fame from their looks, their stupidity, their stance on hot topics or just being “one of a kind.” Some stories make you smile, and some make you wince with embarrassment on their behalf.
The statistics of twitter are simply fascinating. 58 million tweets a day. A day. That is incredible. And in the article A Very Viral 2013, you can read about some of the top viral stories from last year featuring people who unintentionally (or maybe hopefully) became famous, for better and for worse.
And we will always misspeak.
We will always have moments when we could say something just a little differently. We wish we could just take it back. But taking back words is like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube (go ahead…try it). And unfortunately, there is no delete button on the internet. Once words or pictures or hate has been sent, it cannot be taken back.
And so we live by the currency of grace.
We learn instead to rely on the power of listening and of conversation. Of hearing someone out and accepting apologies. We log off Facebook and we make a phone call. We find a way to vent that is like lighting a candle, not a pile of lumber.
Because what we say matters. And the age-old saying of “think before you speak” is one of the richest, wisest pieces of advice I have ever heard.
As Ann Voskamp accurately says, “Measure your words–they determine the distance of your relationships.”
Let’s consider what we are going to say before we say it. May we think of how our words will affect others. And may we listen with grace and give the opportunity for forgiveness.
May we make every effort possible to give our words as gifts. Intangible, valuable, and life-giving gifts.
Today, and each day, may we speak love.