The power of words

Before you read this post, take 6 and a half minutes to watch this TED talk.  It will be worth your time, I promise.  [youtube=]  When I watched it, it made me think about the power of words in my life.

There are negative words that hurt me now even though I am a grown man.  In fact there are some words that linger.  They still hurt even though they were spoken many, many years ago.  There are also words of encouragement that offer me great strength.  This experience is not unique to me. It is part of life.

The story from the video is probably a bit unique though, in that, it is a bit unusual for the words of a stranger to really hurt you or to have great effect on you.  The words that pack the most punch typically come from loved ones.  I can vividly remember something said when I was 15 that determined many decisions for the next few years for me.  That statement came from someone living in my house. And that is the way of it.  The words we say are powerful.  We can truly hurt someone with them and we can really build someone up with them.

In the video, the speaker refers to an event that he has forgotten.  To him it was a throw away event, but it lead to important things, a marriage and at least one college degree.  In order to illustrate the power of words, even of this type I thought I would share a story of how some encouraging words may have changed the course of my life.

In 1995 I was 20 years old and left home for Washington and Oregon for summer missions.  To say I was inexperienced would be an understatement.  I was inexperienced at life.  Certainly I had no idea what I was doing when it came to mission work.  The problem in my mind was that I had no skills whatsoever that could be useful for a missionary.  I couldn’t build things, I was not comfortable with public speaking, and I am much more introverted than I would like to be.  Plus I was only 20.  I didn’t know what I would be doing that summer, only that I was obeying God by going.  It turns out that I would be leading a multitude of backyard Bible clubs.  My summer in large part was hanging out with kids.  Not only hanging out with kids, but hanging out with kids with a purpose.  We were teaching them the Bible.

Now to the part about the encouraging words.  In the first week there, when we divided up responsibilities for the Backyard Bible Club the teaching of the Bible story fell to me.  I had no skills remember, but I figured I could tell some Bible stories.  I was certainly familiar with them.  So when the time came, I taught.  I don’t remember what Bible story it was (though the picture looks like it was Adam & Eve) I don’t even remember how it went.  I do remember being glad that I survived it.  Here is what I really remember.  After I spoke, the pastor’s wife from that week’s host church told me what a great job I did.  She said that I had the kids’ attention and that I made it easy for them.  That was nearly 16 years ago and I remember it plainly. It is the first time I ever knew that I was good at anything useful.  That one word of encouragement went a very long way. Now, all these years later, as I attempt to launch a speaking ministry I have tried to use that ability to teach and make things simple for God's glory.  And it is possible that I never would have been anything but intimidated if not for some encouraging words from a woman whose name I can't even remember.

There are other people in my life who have been very encouraging.  I remember them as well, but this was a formative time for me and I am thankful.

I am afraid that in my lifetime I have done much more damage with words that I have done building up. So I sure am glad for those encouragers.

How about you, are there words said in your lifetime that were very significant?