“Look at me, I am an ice skater.” I smiled in delight as the tiny blonde princess down the grocery store aisle swirled in a circle with her arms artistically poised over her head. When she caught my eye, she twirled even faster. I winked and told her she would make a beautiful ice skater.

“You ain’t never gonna be an ice skater, so stop your stupid swirling.” I reeled as the words spewed full force from the adult man she was with. The ferocity with which his words cut through the air and pierced the heart of the little girl shocked me.

I suspect it was not the first time she had been spoken to like that. Looking up at me with deep sadness, she sighed and obediently stopped moving. Seconds before her spirit soared in a fanciful moment of pure joy. Violently flung back to reality by the hurtful words of her careless caregiver, she now hung her head, staring blankly at the cold tile floor.

Words matter.

I grew up with violent verbal abuse. I have also endured damage from careless words as an adult. Knowing how painful words affect me, my New Year’s resolution this year was to be more gracious with my own words. It is April and I can confidently claim victory over my sharp tongue more times than I did last year. I must also honestly confess the many times I have asked for forgiveness in the past four months because my words were offensive. I am a work in progress who fully understands that my words have the power to build up or cut down.

The words we choose to use, can at the same time reveal who we are, and destroy the people around us. In reference to her book Silver Boxes, Florence Littauer, quotes a child, “Don’t say bad words to hurt people. Every word out of your mouth should be like a little silver box with a bow on top!”

In his song, “Speak Life, Christian recording artist Toby Mac suggests that when we have bad days we are tempted to make sure others suffer too. Our words, the song reminds, can either bring hope or cause death.

In my work with hurting youth and families I hear five words more than any others.
“I wish they would say…” I often speak with damaged children who are victims of verbal assault from friends and family members. I teach skills to help them reject hurtful lies reminding them that words others mean for harm don’t have to define them. I also guide parents wounded by disrespectful words from their teens. Taking the words personally, they often reject both the words and the child who delivered them.

The words we choose wield great power, either building up with healing and love, or tearing down in anger and hate. The apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, says the first is simply best, “Encourage one another and build each other up.”

Mother Theresa said it this way, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever leave you without being better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness. Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are endless.”

Are we willing to be the kind of people who speak life to others? Are we courageous enough to put our own pain aside momentarily to offer hope and joy to those around us? Can we put the needs of others ahead of our own and choose to build up instead of tear down?

Using kind words costs nothing. They are readily available to give as gifts to the people we encounter each day. Try these tips for infusing your conversations with words that speak life.

1. Send someone an encouraging email describing something they did to inspire you.

2. Look someone in the eye and tell them one thing they did to make your day better.

3. Share a kind word with a stranger. Let them know they matter.

4. Leave an anonymous note of encouragement in a public place where someone might find just the kind word they long to hear.

5. Make a list of five positive adjectives that describe a friend. Wrap it in a little box and give it to him or her.