The Words We Say

I was a little concerned about my oldest son as he started Pre-K a few years ago.  Bradley is a creative, fun little boy who breaks things, sings loudly, and often has difficulty controlling his limbs and phalanges.  He reminds me of a slightly less imaginative Calvin from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, but with siblings to get into trouble with instead of a stuffed tiger.

However, I wasn’t nearly as concerned as my mother seemed to be.  Here, word for word, is what she told him the day before his very first day of school:

“I hope you have good day tomorrow, Bradley.  Try not to kill anybody.”

Yes, you read that correctly.  The best advice Bradley received from his grandmother for his very first day of school was “try not to kill anybody.” 

There were two things that stood out to me about what she said.  First, her standards have dropped sharply since my brother and I were Bradley’s age.  Making good grades, keeping our shirt-tails tucked in, maintaining stain-free blue jeans, and exemplary conduct were the standards back when we were snotty-nosed school starters.  Fast forward 25 years and now my mom’s expectations have sunk to the point where she just wants her grandson not to act like a junior member of the Mafia or someone trying to improve his street cred to sell more rap albums. 

The other thing that was intriguing about her statement was the use of the word “try.”  Adding “try” to a piece of advice changes the advice more than you might think.  When I counsel a couple about to be married, I don’t say “try to be faithful to your spouse.”  That would be crazy; kind of like advising your grandson to “try not to kill anybody.”  In my head, I can hear Yoda saying, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”

For anyone who knows my mom, this type of thing should be expected.  She has a ways of saying things at times that are…interesting. 

When I was in my late teens, while we were eating supper she told me about a young man we knew who was going to have a colonoscopy.  Thinking that I was either stupid or ignorant, Mom decided to explain to me what a colonoscopy is—“You know,” she said, “that’s when they put a kaleidoscope in your rear end a look around.”  I laughed pretty hard. Imagining a doctor sharing the results of a colonoscopy with his patient by explaining that the main problem with his colon is that there are stars, rainbows, and diamonds up there made me laugh harder.

Another supper conversation from a few years earlier featured another of my mother’s gems.  We were talking about the stormy weather that we had been experiencing.  My mom said, “Well, at least we don’t live in Texas.  I heard on the radio that they were having hail there the size of baseball bats.”  If it was falling straight down, that would be bad.  Falling down while spinning like helicopter blades?  Much, much worse.

Let me give you one last example of my mother’s way with words.  A few years ago, we both worked at the same large company that would occasionally sell raffle tickets to raise money for various causes.  As a general rule, my parents do not purchase raffle tickets because they see it as gambling.  This time, however, my mom purchased a raffle ticket.  There were several nice items that could be won–such as an All-Terrain-Vehicle, a two-night stay at a hotel in Gatlinburg, or a basketball signed by Bruce Pearl.  When my mom told me about buying a ticket, I asked her what she would do with the ATV if she won it.  Her response, “I guess I would put it in the living room where our other TV is.”  I started to explain, but I just didn’t have the heart.

I have to admit that I have made my share of verbal blunders,too.  It comes with the territory when you are a pastor.  Speaking to a congregation 3 times a week gives me plenty of opportunities to say something silly.

Saying silly things is a lot better than saying hurtful things.  Sadly, I’ve done this too often as well.  So have you.  In spite of our best efforts we often allow words that hurt others slip out.  Sometimes, though, we don’t try to keep these words in.  Sometimes we intend to hurt others with our words.

This is a shame.  The whole “sticks and stones” thing is a lie.  Words do hurt.  Let’s think before we speak.  Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to be our editor.  Words of grace, forgiveness, and encouragement are what my life, your life, the lives of those we love, and the lives of those who have hurt us need.  They may not be deserved; but they are an easy and inexpensive way can change you, me, and them. 

Can words kill people?  In a way, they can.  They can kill a person’s spirit.  They can assassinate someone’s dreams.  They can murder a person’s will to live.

Choose your words carefully and as my mom would say–try not to kill anybody.

(Have you said or heard anything silly lately?  What about words that have either helped or hurt you?  Feel free to share.  And for another post about my mom–go here:


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