Sometimes the words we choose are spot on, exactly as we intend, just what the listener needs to hear. Sometimes we miss the mark. We blow it.
Two years ago, after adopting a rescue black Lab through an online organization of dedicated Lab lovers, it took one look to choose her name. I figured God saved me by His grace. Now I had saved this sweet Lab, so her name would be Gracie.
As Gracie and I bonded I decided she needed to learn a few tricks. She could be carefully molded into my new evangelism tool if I taught her to throw her paws into the air every time I squealed “Hallelujah!” Gracie was a quick study. After one afternoon of practice she was well on her way to spreading joy. Besides, with every Hallelujah performance, Gracie garnered a treat. It was a win-win arrangement. Soon Gracie realized she could significantly advance the distribution of treats if she sat back and threw her arms up in joy every time someone walked through our door. Gracie was relentless and she now praises the arrival of everyone from the UPS driver to invited friends.
Recently I conducted the children’s message at our church. The morning’s topic was Jesus, our best friend. I asked myself, who my best friend? It was Gracie, of course, and so she merited an invitation to come along to church as my prop. She was a big hit.
When Phyllis Harmony, my speaker friend, was staying at my house, she offered to take Gracie for a walk. I quickly accepted knowing Gracie would enjoy the exercise. What I didn’t know was that Phyl would turn into the neighborhood evangelist. Every few steps Phyl would toss her hands in the air and cry, “Praise the Lord!” Gracie, at her side, just sniffed the myriad of scents along the side of the road. But Phyllis was not deterred. She kept at it, moving up and down the streets of my neighborhood, crying out “Praise the Lord!” Gracie continued to sniff. One neighbor who was also out on a walk decided to cross the road as Phyl and her charge approached. Finally Phyl returned home convinced my dog was somehow defective. I suspect Gracie held similar thoughts about Phyl. “Praise the Lord” didn’t do it for my Lab, but say “Hallelujah” and she’s all yours.
Have you ever, despite good intentions, found yourself saying the wrong thing? Does it keep you from saying anything at all? Perhaps you’ve experienced someone saying something to you that so misses the mark you wonder, “what is she thinking?” Upon hearing I was headed for my second open-heart surgery at the age of 46, an acquaintance declared, “I knew something was wrong. You look just awful.” Or those well meaning people who said to me when my first husband died at age 43, “Well, at least you have the kids.”
There is incredible power in the words we choose and it’s with our words we can uplift and encourage or tear down and harm. I suggest we not choose the easy way out of remaining silent, but rather we need to ask ourselves “how are these words received?”