How often do you stop and think about the impact of the words you use when speaking to others? Not only do words make a difference, the tone and volume with which you speak them make a great difference also.
Remember that saying your momma taught you the first time you came home with your heart broken from something someone said to you: “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you”. That is a well-meaning lie. Since sticks and stones can break your bones and words can rip your heart out in a way no stick or stone could ever come close to doing.
Similarly, a kind and gentle word, spoken from the heart can literally turn the bleakest of days to radiant sunshine.
I once heard a nationally known educator use the illustration of seeing everyone you meet as carrying a basket of rocks on their backs. You can add another rock or take one out of the basket thus adding to the load or diminishing it. How simple.
Recently I have developed a bad habit. When I go through the check-out line at a store, I routinely ask the checker how they are. The answer that most often comes back is, “Okay”, or “Just Fine”. As I ask the question, I attempt to look in the eye of the responder. So often their face is pinched or there is an almost tear forming. When I see that, I follow up with something like, “Really, are you telling me the truth”. The responses are incredible. Only once or twice has someone told me the story of his or her pain. But, at other times, I have heard something like, “Thank you for asking”. I know then that I have taken a rock out of a heavy basket. I call it a bad habit because I sometimes hold up the line. When I do that I look at the person behind me and smile. I’ve never been physically assaulted but, I suspect that I’ve come close. I have had people bump me with their carts and when that happens I say a popcorn prayer for them.
I believe that in our society today most people are carrying a basket so heavy that one or two more rocks will simply break their back. We all need a bit of unloading and it is so easy. A simple sincerely spoken, “Thank you”, can make a huge difference. A smile can unwind a ton of tension. Just offer one and see what comes back.
It is extremely sad that we live in a society of isolation. Unless a person is well connected to a church, a social group, a community, or some other kind of organization we live and die with our pain, never having another to assist us in carrying the load.
When I grew up we knew everyone in our neighborhood. Not just next door, but around the corner in both directions and for a block or two beyond. When there was pain in a family, we all knew it and helped in some way. The same was true when I entered the ministry 30 years ago, but today, gosh what a different story. I know a couple of our neighbors, but certainly not all. Several years ago we attempted to start a Christmas Open House, visiting each neighbor for a bit of refreshment and fellowship. It worked for two years, but then it fell by the wayside. We knew the same few we did when we started.
I don’t have any answers, just a deep sadness that the changes we are experiencing as a society are allowing us to drift further and further apart instead of closer and closer when, more that ever we need each other.
Oh well, just remember to lighten a load when the opportunity is presented.