The words we say shape the worlds we live in. Proverbs 18:21 vividly puts it this way: “The power of death and life are in the tongue.” As I dwell on this, I wonder sometimes how I have been intentional with the words I say.Our world is showered with the frantic on and on-ness of our ever present news feed. In the constant barrage of words upon words, our speech can become careless. I don’t want to let this happen. I want to consider…How am I bringing life, not death, to myself and the people around me?
In pondering, I came up with this list. These phrases are the ones I have found to shape my life for the better. What are yours?
- I admire ____ about you:
So often the true virtues of our lives are developed in quiet and sometimes lonely fortitude. I have often felt that I could carry on and be faithful for one more day if only I knew that someone saw and cared.
I think sometimes we assume we’ve said the kind words we think about others, or we assume that surely someone else must have. We don’t want to be redundant, and we certainly don’t want to flatter or be too vulnerable. Wouldn’t it be too pushy or personal to say something? Might as well save the complimenting for someone else.
But the truth is, no one else may do the complimenting, and we are all starved for affirmation.
To compliment someone is to see them. To acknowledge a part of their being or action. To affirm that who they are and what they do is good and seen and worth it. And we all desperately long to be seen. A gift we can give each other is to see and acknowledge the beauty, virtue, and talent in each other.
I see the gentleness you offer in response to harsh words. I see the hard work you have silently put in to accomplish your dreams and calling. I see the effort you put into presenting yourself with loveliness. I see the diligence with which you seek answers for the questions you have. I see your wit and humor and it is delightful.
You are seen, and you are loved.
Isn’t that what we all long to hear?
2. I shouldn’t have done that:
Regret is a terrible master to live under, but so is pretense. There have been times in my life where I made the wrong decision; the unwise, hurtful, or selfish decision. My temptation is always to try to gloss over it, and vindicate my choice as right. I’m just stubborn enough to carry on in a series of bad decisions I don’t want to make purely so I don’t have to admit I was wrong. Eek!
When we cannot admit we are wrong, we become a slave to our mistakes.
We must defend them, live by them, cover them up. We must make a long string of bad decisions to cover up the fact that the original decision was wrong.
We are never free from our mistakes until we can call them what they are. Relationships are torn apart by silent grievances. A heart is torn apart by hidden guilt.
Voice your regret so you can be free of it. What can be said can be moved past. Confess so you can taste the sweet fruit of forgiveness. Confess to yourself. Confess to someone. Confess to God.
If we confess our sins to him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us (1 John 1:9).
3. I want/wish/hope:
I have often felt like I wanted to much out of life. I hunger after life and life to the full. I see in vivid colors the way life could be, and I hunger after it… love, adventure, faith, hope, excellence, taste, sound, color…!
Somewhere along the way, I think a Buddhist idea slipped into our Christian imaginations: that we really oughtn’t desire anything too much. We play a trick with our minds thinking if we don’t want something, say marriage, it will come upon us as a reward for our desire killing efforts.
This is not the gospel.
God does not call us to a bleaker, dimmer life, but too a fuller, more passionate, more human life. As Lewis says,
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward … promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased” (Weight of Glory, 1965).
In not allowing ourselves to desire, we do not allow God to provide. Let your desires be spoken, and give them to God who does not give His children a stone when they ask for bread.
Want things. Want great and beautiful things. Want a glorious and redeemed life. And though your thirsts may not always be satisfied, they will remind you that you are meant for a life beyond this one. It may be a chance to trust and know God more deeply.
4. I feel …
Feelings are given a bad wrap. Explicitly, we are told not to live by them. Implicitly we are told not to express some of them (anger or sadness, for instance). But the funny thing that I have found is that feelings will be felt even if you don’t want them to be. You can try to press them down, but they’ll come gurgling out at the most inconvenient moments, or harden into a persistent grumpiness.
Just like regrets, if you can’t express emotions, they will rule you. We must own our feelings, not treating them like something foreign to us. We should listen to our emotions and talk to them: what do they tell us about the state of our lives?
Emotions are one of the things that make us human. We don’t just react to things instinctively, we react to them with rich, complex, pesky emotions.
Sharing emotions creates an inroad to closeness. Express your emotions so they don’t control you. Express your emotions because they are uniquely human. Express your emotions to someone you love to invite closeness.
5. I love you.
Love you, Joy! he said with a wave as I got in my car. I wouldn’t see him again for many months. My American reserve prickled. Is it too much to say “I love you” to a friend?
But I carried those words in my heart.
I have said goodbye many times in the last three years. The coming and going in my way of life has taught me the transience and uncontrollableness of life. I never want to be caught unawares, but to express my love to each person who matters to me in the only moment I am promised: now! If you love someone, if you cherish them and hope the best for their lives, tell them. Now. Don’t wait for the day that may never come. Words unsaid are a bitter poison.
Live a life without unsaid I love you’s.