Yesterday was a day for life lessons, mostly for me. I was on my way out of church. I passed my friend. He was standing talking to a young man holding a little girl. His hands were waving but he’s a demonstrative guy so I didn’t think much of it. A few minutes later something didn’t feel right. I went back and said, “do you need some help?” He looked relieved and said “yes, we have a custody issue here.” That was all he needed to say. I got it.
Perhaps it’s because of my upbringing in a home with lots of fighting, or perhaps it the fact that I see children the way Jesus does, but I zoomed in on Dad and his little sweetie. I got very close to him and rubbed his arm and said, “I understand you are upset but we can’t do this in front of the baby.” He started telling me all that was wrong with his wife and his marriage and his life. I repeated, “I understand, but we don’t want the baby hearing all of this. It scares her.” He began to talk about his fierce love for his daughter and all the things he’s tried to do to take care of her. He began to show me very quickly that his daughter was his whole world. He was having many of personal struggles in his life that he was working on, but his daughter was his joy. He told me the police would be coming. I said, “we don’t want the baby here when the police come. Let’s go to this room over here and get her some juice. “ I don’t know if it was because I spoke to him with authority, like a Mom would perhaps or because he felt my heart that I was so trying to share with him, but he agreed to come with me. We got his daughter some juice and goldfish and I said to him, “will you trust her with me while you take care of the police? I will keep her safe here.” He agreed. My friend came to get him. He kissed his daughter several times and left me to care for his greatest treasure. We played for a while, then her mom came in to get her and left.
As I walked back outside, my friend was still talking to Dad. He was again telling his side of the story and he was obviously upset. When there was a break in the conversation I walked up and said, “I want you to know that your baby is safe. She had juice and goldfish and Mom has taken her home.“ He nodded. Then I put my hand on his shoulder, looked directly into his eyes. He was young. I could read the conflict and pain in his eye. “You are a good man” I said. He looked at me as if he almost couldn’t comprehend what I was saying. I said it again, “you are a good man.” The tears began to flow from his eyes. One more time I said it. “You are a good man, and your daughter needs you to be that good man for her. She needs you.” Then I hugged him. He hugged me like he didn’t want to let go and he sobbed. I left the men alone to talk about what change would look like for his life.
As I left I really began to reflect on the power of our words. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Our tongues hold the power of life and death, the power to build up, or destroy. I had a choice in that moment with Dad. I could have come out and told him to get his act together. I could have admonished him for scaring his daughter. I could have dipped into my own childhood pain and made it all about me. I chose in that moment to use my tongue to build him up. I wondered later if he had ever heard words that built him up. Maybe he
had, but most likely recently he’s heard more about how he’s messed up his life, or all the things he isn’t doing right. I realize it’s a balance. People need to be held accountable when they are going down the wrong path, but in those times building up is necessary too.
Many times what’s even more lethal are the words I tell myself. You are a failure. You dropped the ball. You couldn’t do it. You’re fat. You’re a loser. You should have gone to college. You’re ugly. You’ll never amount to anything. I’m so much harder on myself than on anyone else.
I wonder how my life and the life of others would be different if I chose my words more carefully. I wonder what would happen if I landed more on praise and less on admonishment? I’m going to work on that. I’m going to take the time to say something kind to the checker at the grocery store. I’m going to send my kids encouraging texts. I’m going to remember to thank my husband for working so hard for the family. I’m going to tell my Mom how much I appreciate her making all of our favorite things. I’m going to compliment more. I’m going to try to be kinder to myself. My words have power. I’m going to consciously choose to use them for good.