“So when are you gonna start having kids?”
“Um…I want kids, but, um…I can’t.”
I could see the wheels in their heads spinning wildly as they hurried to conjure something to say. I wished they focused more on being present and speaking life rather than just trying to make conversation. At least they were being nice, right? Or maybe they missed an opportunity to speak the words I needed to hear in that moment.
When I was diagnosed with lupus six years ago, I was inundated with people who had a lot of advice for me—both medical advice from people who had no medical degrees but vast knowledge obtained from Google, and spiritual advice from people who could quote passages of scripture but didn’t take enough time to get to know me and where I was with my faith. Early on a friend gave me some good advice that saved me a lot of frustration: “People will say things to you that are insensitive or even hurtful, but they mean well and don’t know any better. So when that happens, it’s an opportunity for you to show grace.” I don’t have the energy to dwell on the hurtful things people say, and I’ve found that when I show grace to others, I’m also saving myself from bitterness and frustration that can drain me of my limited strength.
Unfortunately, this story repeats itself many times over for those who suffer in any form. People want to help, but all too often say the wrong things. They’re trying to be nice, but they’re still missing the mark. And when I say, “people,” I mean me, too. I’m guilty of saying “nice” things that miss the mark.
When we were kids we were taught, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This is great advice to teach children to not be mean.
But is that all? As followers of Jesus, when we speak, is the most important thing for us to avoid being mean or is there something more? Are we missing out on opportunities to be salt and light by being satisfied with our “nice” conversations?
When I think of the words of Jesus (and even Peter and Paul), “nice” doesn’t come to mind. Kind, powerful, honest, but not “nice.” If you removed from the Bible all the words of Jesus that didn’t follow the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” maxim, I don’t think you’d have very much left.
So let’s change the motto: “If you don’t have anything life-giving to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Speak life. That’s what made Jesus’ words—even the ones that stung—so good. He wasn’t careless with His words. He never spoke just to fill the silence or just to get something off His chest. When He spoke, He spoke life.
I want to be the kind of person who speaks life.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)
“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT)
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”(Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
- build up
- be good, helpful, and beneficial
- be appropriate for the occasion and meet people where they’re at in that moment and season of their lives (which means you’ll need to listen carefully first)
- give grace
Don’t just be nice. Don’t just say what you feel. Don’t just give advice. Speak life.
Speak life to the mom and her children who have had a rough day.
Speak life to the couple who is facing infertility.
Speak life to the woman who is struggling with chronic illness.
Speak life to the man who exhausted from working hard to provide for his family.
Speak life to the high school kid who’s struggling to get your fast-food order right.
Speak life to the one who feels like their life is falling apart and they just can’t get it together.
Speak life to the public official who has to make the decision several times a day between doing what’s easy and doing what’s right.
Speak life to the college student who is carrying heavy loads, learning to be an adult, and is reminded of the uncertainty of their future every time someone says, “So what are you doing when you graduate?”
Even speak life to the pastor who carries the burdens of the people he (or she) leads while spending unseen hours writing sermons and handling administrative duties that keep the church functioning week to week.