Friday, September 6, 2013

Compassion in Words

Words are powerful.

They whisper "I love you." They make hearts soar. They let us share secrets with someone a thousand miles away. They change minds. They make laws. They command armies.

The right words can end wars.

Positive words inspire and bring joy.  Negative words - through gossip, complaining, arguing, demeaning - break morale, bring us down, drain our spirits. 

I find writing to be a much safer medium. I can filter the rash thoughts, re-check them, wait until I am calm to see what I really think. The delete button is a gift. With the spoken word, they can be said in a heartbeat, and though they can be forgiven, they are not easily forgotten. I am not alone in my struggle to tame my tongue, and to stop mean and rude words passing my lips when emotion rises. But even with the safety of a keyboard, the internet and social media is filled with lies, gossip and bullying from many who don't make great use of that time lapse between thinking something and blurting it out.

The bible has plenty of advice and warnings on taming our tongue. James puts it rather bluntly, doesn't he?  The bible is clear that harsh words, cruel words, deceitful words all need to be stopped. And James tells us, if we don't control this, then all the other religious efforts we make are worthless. Indeed, if the most important commandments are about loving God, our neighbors and our enemies, what place do thoughtless words have?

I have meditated a lot on the difference between reacting versus responding.  When we react to a situation, we let our feelings take control, and feelings often lie. They are temporary, and as we calm down or take a moment, those feelings often change. What we said fifteen minutes ago no longer feels right.
Conversely, when we respond to a situation, we think about what we will say, what will be helpful and how it will be received.

An example:  A friend complains about her job for the 5th time this week. A reaction would be, "Why don't you quit then? All you do is complain about it." A response would be, "I'm sorry you've been so unhappy at work lately. What's been bothering you? Maybe we can think of a solution."
A teenager blurts out an angry swear word about his best friend. A reaction would be, "Don't use that word in my house!" A response: "That's not like you to use such a horrible word.  What's made you so angry?"
(An apology and change might come more easily when he feels heard and understood.)

Oh, easy to say as I sit and type, right? After your own stressful day, dealing with other people's stress, negativity, tension, lies, cussing, bullying and so on can just be too much. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is pretty good at helping us in these moments. These moments can be an invitation to lean into Him for guidance, wisdom and self control.

So, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I vow to try:

To respond with love.
To think about each reply before I speak it.
To pray for someone who needs encouragement.
To remind someone they are loved.
To remain silent if my words are not helpful.
To let them know, this is temporary. Better is around the corner.
To share a blessing of encouragement.
To offer to listen.
To offer a kind truth to a lie.
To use words only for good.
To tell someone I value them.

How else can we use our words for compassion? What will you change?

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