One of my congregants emailed me…
“My daughter is suffering so much with COVID-19 that every morning at about 7 a.m. she calls me, and is overwrought with fear and anxiety about her symptoms and her suffering. Each morning I am on the telephone with her for a long time trying to encourage her and ‘talk her down’ from her fear, and she said today that only my words of encouragement are making a huge difference. I am praying for her recovery, but still worry. Any advice?”
Words have the power to be an instrument of peace—or to cut like a knife.
We find many incidents in the Bible illustrating the power of speech. The serpent in the Garden of Eden causes temptation through speech; Miriam develops leprosy after speaking gossip about Moses; and Korach’s rebellious army is consumed inside the “mouth of the earth.” On the positive side, in the Song of Songs, King Solomon describes a woman’s virtue: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue.”
What we say and how we say things, matters. Good communication—the right choice of words and inflection—brings people together and allows us to live and work in harmony. When people cannot communicate, chaos ensues. Communication, of course, goes beyond words. We communicate non-verbally using our hands, eyes, body language and tone of voice.
So many people are going through a rough period, especially in these challenging times. Some of them have a smile on the outside, yet on the inside, they’re heartbroken, lonely, afraid and feeling helpless. Each of us can partake in their healing souls by just saying words of encouragement, such as: “I believe in you, I’m praying for you,” a simple compliment, “You look beautiful today,” it’s no big deal to you, but to them, it’s helping heal the wounds. It’s lifting their spirits. It’s causing them to believe in themselves. When we say to someone: “I love you. I’m proud of you. You did a great job,” we are not only being kind, as these are healing words.
It says in Proverbs 18:4, “A person’s words can be life-giving water.” And in chapter 15:4 it says: “A gentle tongue brings healing.” Each of us can change the atmosphere around us and reduce the suffering of others. Expressions of kind words can encourage and uplift the souls of other people.
Almost always, kind words can be what keeps troubled people moving forward. Making a phone call to someone you know who is in isolation or lonely can be life changing. Most of us underestimate the power of ‘how are you doing’ or ‘how are you feeling?’ We may ask and answer the question, but it is just out of habit. Several years ago, I did an experiment to see if this was true. We had a long receiving line on the High Holy Days and when the people went through, some of them would shake hands with me and say: “How are you?” And just to see what would happen, I said: “Fine, thank you. I just came back from the moon.” Most of them said: “That’s nice,” and moved on.
We all have the ability to keep others from falling into depression and darkness. No matter how many times you’ve complimented someone, when you have the opportunity, tell them again. You don’t know what they’re going through, the battles they’re struggling with, who is trying to push them down and how they really feel. These days, it’s harder than ever because we’re limited in seeing others in person. Call or send a text, “Hey, I want you to know I love you and I think you’re beautiful.”
Words said in a kind, gentle, meaningful way—are like an incredibly effective medicine. Just like we would rush over to give someone a life-saving medicine, so we need to act with our mouths by encouraging, complimenting, caring and strengthening. Such a simple gesture from the heart can decrease the suffering and increase the healing.
Today, more than ever, we must not hold back. Even the strong people who look like they have it all together may be in dire pain inside.