What we say can have a powerful positive impact on others, even though we might never know it—until we get to heaven. In the movie “Boyhood,” the mother comments to a young workman digging around a pipe in her yard that he should think about going to the Community College. She tells him that he is smart. Years later as she dines in a restaurant, a man approaches her table. He identifies himself as the young man she spoke to. He is now the manager of that restaurant as a result of her words. Yes, God speaks to us through Scripture and creation, but sometimes he also speaks to us through other people. I’ve been reviewing my life to see what words from others have nudged me along. You might do this exercise sometime too!
When I was trying to make up my mind whether or not to speak at a national convention, a friend said, “If you can teach, you can talk.” So I took the plunge and never stopped speaking. After I wrote my first novel, another friend said she liked it so much that she was looking forward to my next one. So I began chapter 1 in another novel. Long ago my driving instructor commented, “You see problems where there aren’t any.” Now I say that to myself whenever I’m intimidated by a big task. Sometimes after a person has burst the bubble of our self-esteem in regard to something, another person will come along and restore it. I wasn’t accepted in the tryouts for our community choir, but a few years later a singing teacher from Europe told me I had a lovely voice. This week on the radio I heard about an older musician taking a young man’s face in his hands and saying, “You have music in you.” That young man now teaches music in Texas.
A few good, words also impelled some saints on their way to their extraordinary lives. As a student, Francis Xavier was headed for a brilliant career. But then one day St. Ignatius asked him, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” And Francis became a great Jesuit missionary. In a private audience with Pope Leo XIII, Katharine Drexel (whose feast day was March 3) asked him to send a priest to minister to the native Americans. The pope replied, “Why not, my child, you go to them?” Although Katharine was intending to become a contemplative religious, instead she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, whose mission was to work with native Americans and Afro-Americans.
Words can be devastating, as you might know from personal experience. But positive words have power to uplift people. It is a way to love them. St. Paul wrote, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) Teachers are in a prime position to spur people on to excel. But you don’t have to be a teacher to say something that will influence someone’s life. So let’s be encouragers for our friends, family members, and even acquaintances: affirming others’ gifts, motivating them to reach for their dreams, and giving them confidence.
Who have been some of the coaches in your life? Who could benefit from your affirming words?