The Weight of Words

This post originally appeared in the East Valley Tribune.

As a person who speaks in front of crowds on a regular basis, I often get into funny conversations with people I meet. We have five campuses across the Valley so most people in our church hear me preach at a distance. When all you know is what you see from afar, or on video, real life has a way — evidently — of surprising you. I’ve been told that I’m shorter than they thought and even that I have more gray hair than they’d expect. I’ve been told all manner of observations that catch me completely by surprise. People tend to turn off their regular social filters in moments like these. Normal etiquette falls by the wayside as blunt truth takes over. As I’ve experienced this strange occurrence over the years, I’ve realized that this happens in an even greater capacity in a different context. Specifically, when we talk with someone who is hurting. Oftentimes when we don’t understand a person’s pain, we tend to say incredibly insensitive things to them. While my conversations with people can be comical, conversations with a hurting person often add to their pain. Consider an obscure couple from the Bible. Their names are Hannah and Elkanah. Elkanah has two wives and only one of them is able to have kids. And it isn’t Hannah. Her inability to have children is the great disappointment of her life, as it is for many women. As she wrestles with this disappointment, her husband Elkanah attempts to encourage her. In one verse we read four different statements he makes to her. We don’t know how much time passes between each comment but we can easily see they aren’t helpful. He asks her why she’s weeping, as if he is completely unaffected by her situation. Similarly, he again asks why she’s downhearted. He can’t seem to connect the dots. He gives her some awful advice by suggesting that maybe she just needs to eat something. As if a snack will fill this emotional void in her heart. And my personal favorite is his stunningly dense question to her about whether he is worth more to her than 10 sons! That’s a lot of stupid in one verse (1 Samuel 1:8). This story has a happy ending in that she will soon get pregnant with a son we know as the prophet Samuel and will then have five more kids. But there is much for us to learn in this one simple verse. The words we use when talking to a person in pain carry a heavier weight to them than we often realize. To make things worse, in our helplessness and ignorance we have a greater tendency so say something inappropriate. But the solution isn’t to avoid these conversations as we would then be avoiding the pivotal life moments with those around us. Some of my closest friends deal with clinical depression. The kind you don’t just “get over” or wait for it to go away. I have tried my best to meet them in that place and support them in any way I’m able. But I’ve also grieved with them about insensitive statements that hurt. Especially from people they love and respect. I pray this serves as a reminder there are hurting people around us right now. There are people we know who have an aching heart for any number of reasons. How much could we encourage them by simply having an intentional conversation? A conversation not to tell them how we can fix the issue but to let them know they have our support? That we will stand with them through it. When the weight of your words is heavy, use them wisely.

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co.