As young children, when taunted by some unkind person with hurtful words, we’d often reply, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”
But it was a lie.
Words do hurt. And they have lasting effect. Once spoken they are difficult if not impossible to take back. Said in haste, careless disregard, or anger, they create barriers and distance us each living in their own sort of prison.
The good news is that the opposite is also true. While negative words and phrases stick with us, so do positive uplifting ones. Expressions that esteem and express humility, concern, affection, and love have power to tear down walls and bring people in closer harmony with each other. How often God prompts us to:
- Love one another
- Encourage one another
- Spur one another on
- Live at peace with one another
While needed to help us navigate all the difficult paths of life, perhaps there is a no more poignant time for this as when we are dying. It is then that nearly everyone comes to realize is that when all is said and done, what matters are harmonious relationships. Dr. Ira Byock shares in the book, The Four Things That Matter Most, there are four phrases that carry enormous power for emotional wellness and spiritual healing – for living and ending life well. They are simply:
- Please forgive me.
- I forgive you.
- Thank you.
- I love you.
Four simple phrases that should never be left unsaid. But commonly withheld, they continue to hold us captive to our sense of past wrongs and hurts. Shared humbly and freely, they release immense power to restore and transform relationships. Like a healing balm to an infected wound, they restore what was broken. They remind us that living with integrity and grace matter more than the pride of being right, worldly accomplishments, or fame. They speak affirmation to life. How we all need the encouragement of these simple phrases.
We might be tempted to think forgiveness is not needed. We say to ourselves, “After all they were wrong” or we think bringing up an old offense will only fester the old wound. We resist asking forgiveness because it requires humility, and the setting aside of our “right to be right.” We falsely think that withholding forgiveness punishes the other person when in reality it’s a poison we drink ourselves. How that is especially true when we refuse to forgive ourselves!
We think people don’t need to be thanked. After all, they’re paid to do a good job. It’s an expectation of life that shouldn’t require expressions of appreciation. In fact, saying ‘Thank you” does more than recognize someone. It speaks value to what they do and who they are as a person. It affirms their contribution to life and communicates respect. We might assume someone knows our appreciation and love. But actually saying, “I love you” and expressing it through sacrificial and loving actions makes it certain.
We never know when this moment will be the last opportunity we have to forgive and ask forgiveness, to thank someone and tell them “I love you.” As you reflect on the relationships of your own life, are there awkward silences about uncomfortable issues that separate you from others and keep you both from being truly well? What are the words that have been left unsaid for too long and need to be spoken? Isn’t now is the time to speak the words that matter most, and to make it the daily pattern of your life?