“Death and life are in the power of the tongue . . .” (Proverbs 18:21 ESV)
I have recently felt challenged in my own life in the area of words. The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a crock, and most of us have probably figured that out by now.
We all know that words can hurt in many ways, but my personal discovery in this area has been more about how beneficial good words can be. I found myself asking: Is receiving words of encouragement, or compliments, or kind words, really that important? Even beyond that, does giving those same words to others really affect us at all?
Earlier this year, as I was praying, I felt very convicted on this topic. I felt God was telling me I was being stingy with my good words.
Stingy? Really? That is not a word I would use to describe myself. Nevertheless, in this specific area, that’s exactly what He was telling me.
This began some deep self-reflection. I had to understand why I was this way. I began doing some research and talking to different people. I came to see that there are a variety of reasons that people can lean toward the “stingy” side with kind words.
There’s always a reason, or multiple reasons. If you struggle with this, consider the following:
- Sometimes, speaking encouragement to others is simply not a habit. Maybe it wasn’t modeled for you growing up. This can be easily remedied with one, simple concept: practice! Perhaps it would help to make a daily goal of giving at least three compliments to others. Be sure they are genuine and unique.
- Shyness can certainly keep our mouths shut when they should be talking . . . particularly when they should be encouraging others. When you consider the benefits for both yourself and the recipient, it should be clear that stepping out in love and courage is worth overcoming your fears.
- People with a lack of self-confidence can find it difficult to be generous with their kind words. It’s difficult to give something you don’t have. This issue is a more difficult one to solve. It will take time and long-term commitment. But, as with all the others, it is very beneficial to explore and overcome. Spend some time praying and reflecting on the reasons for your lack of self-confidence in this area, or in general. Jesus said he came to earth so that we can “have real and eternal life, more and better life than they [we] dreamed of.” (John 10:10, MSG) He is always happy to help us with situations like this. Who doesn’t want a better life? Ask Jesus for help in this area. He will guide you so that you can begin to experience the joy that comes from encouraging others.
- Jealousy: such an ugly word! But it is most certainly one of the reasons why people withhold encouraging words. Can you compliment someone on something when their actions threaten you? Can you tell someone who you consider more attractive than yourself that they look lovely? Can you tell someone who has a bigger, more elaborate home that they have a beautiful home? Do you feel secure enough about how you look, what you have, and—most importantly—what your identity is in Christ that you can see the good in others without comparing yourself to them?
Sadly, I could relate to every single thing I’ve listed above in one situation or the other. However, as the good Father that he is, God was challenging me to do something that would benefit me. I definitely had to ask for his help in order to obey his nudging. I would encourage you to do the same.
It took me quite a bit of courage to muster up kind words to certain people; but, I did it. In some cases, I had to constantly remind myself because I would forget; but, I did it. For others, I had to swallow my pride to say the kind words; but, I did it.
I can’t even begin to tell you what a difference it has made in my heart and my mind. Over the months, my outlook has changed so much. It went from feeling judgmental, suspicious, guarded, and self-critical (yes, I do feel those things), to being much more gracious and forgiving of others and of myself. Not only did this cause an internal change, it also positively affected my relationship with others.
Todd Smith, founder of Little Things Matter, writes: “When you make people feel good, you enhance their self-image and give them energy, hope, and confidence. . . . When you are intentional about doing things that make others feel good, you create a special connection that accelerates new relationships and nurtures existing ones.”
And, as my wonderful pastor, Francis Anfuso, often points out, “Obedience brings God’s blessing.”
Proverbs 25:11 has a new meaning for me: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (ESV) Now I know that it’s not just the recipient of my kind words that experiences the “sweetness to the soul” and the “health to the body.” It’s the giver too . . . me!
Allow me to pose a challenge. Luke 6:45 says: “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (NLT)
What’s in your heart?