By Denae Jones –
I had a teacher in elementary school who would pay close attention to the way her students would interact with one another. She would go from one desk to another and speak in a low voice to each student. I’m not sure what she told everyone else, but day after day, she would tell me things like, “I saw the way you patiently explained that problem to your classmate when I was working with someone else. You would make a wonderful teacher someday!” Or, “You were so kind when you helped your friend who fell on the playground. You would make a great mother one day!” Always encouraging. Always uplifting.
The next year, I had a teacher who would call her students a ‘bump on a log’ when they didn’t understand the first time. She also called me a liar when I told her I needed to go to the restroom. She refused to let me go and I wet my pants in the middle of the classroom. Everyone laughed and I was humiliated! To make things worse, instead of helping or calling my mom to bring new clothes, she said she was disappointed in me in front of the whole class and made me ‘air dry’ outside at recess.
Thirty-five years later, I vividly remember the words of both of my teachers, but for very different reasons. Ever since the first teacher spoke words of encouragement, I wanted to be a mother and a teacher someday. And guess what? I was! Her words made me believe that I could not only do it, but be really good at it. When I got my first teaching job, I made a promise to myself that I would be the kind of teacher she was. I also make a promise to myself that I would never let my words belittle, tear down, or even embarrass my students like the second teacher did. At least not purposely. Of course nobody remembers everything we say, but they will remember the important things. They will remember the words that either lifted them up, or the ones that tore them down.
Sometimes, though, it’s not just the words we say. It can also be the words we leave out. Words left unspoken. Words we were too embarrassed to say, or have been meaning to say, didn’t get the time to say, or an uncomfortable situation we wanted to avoid. The only words that should be left unspoken are malicious ones. Too many times, we wait until after someone’s funeral to let the emotions come out.
I never told him that I forgave him.
She never once told me she loved me.
I never told her how proud she made me.
I wish I would have apologized.
I should have told him how thankful I am for all the sacrifices he made for me.
I wish I would have told her I loved her more often.
Unfortunately, that list can be a very long one. So why do we wait? What are we afraid of? At the very worst, our words might not be accepted. Maybe even cause a moment of high emotion on one extreme or the other. So what? At least you could leave one another with no regrets of things being left undone. What happens more often is that walls come down and bridges are built. Hearts are healed. Smiles happen. Memories are made. And your words will forever matter.
We all have the ability to build up or tear down with every interaction. And if you are a person who is a teacher, coach, mentor, pastor, boss, or in any type of leadership position, you have that opportunity more than most. Be intentional when you speak.
No matter who we are or who we are interacting with, we can all ask ourselves this question: When people think of me thirty-five years down the road, what will their memory be? Then ponder this: If I knew I only had a few days left on this earth, what words would I want to make sure are spoken? What would it look like if I just went ahead and spoke those words today? It could make a profound difference in your lives and in your relationship.
Let’s not live one more day with the regret of things that were not said. Let’s be purposeful with our words, both inside and outside of our homes. Let’s be in the business of speaking words that make hearts heal. Let’s speak potential into young minds and lift up the broken in spirit. Let’s start now.
Have a blessed week, friends!