I sensed the crumbling of a dream in the one-sided phone conversation which I overheard. I watched the face wilt as words delivered the difficult advice to step down. They weren’t going to make it. The Points were now out of reach. The race for that dream was over, and they’d have to let it go.
In another place that week, I sat on a sunny pew and considered the person whose funeral it was. Hers was not a profile which drew a legion of mourners; rather a gentle band of family and friends who loved her. The words spoken described a woman willing to leave behind a legacy of kindness and compassion, above achievements and success. At an early point in her life, she decided to give up her career to take care of elderly parents, and so overturned her own ambitions. Some told her it was madness. More than her life’s worth. Rather her than me. This same woman used her love of nature to design and plant a Prayer Garden, filled with plants and flowers mentioned in the Bible – it became a place of healing for people who, in their own trouble, could find a reminder of how awesome God is.
Both these situations got me thinking about what we do with what people say to us, and in turn, how we can so easily lose sight (and voice) of what God has to say on the topic.
The words we listen to can make or break us.
No matter what the intent is, the brain processes and understands words uniquely and with any amount of influence – like our mood, for example. The two scenarios above are but examples of several voices you or I will hear in any given day. In the first conversation, one young student heard the words “you’re not good enough”, in the second that young woman heard “you’re too valuable to do this”. Did the brain respectively translate those words to “I’m stupid’” and “I’m wrong”? Whether it’s an examination or a career, a school report or a friend’s advice, we hear and process critical-sounding words differently, like “You need to …” (I’m weak) “You should’ve …” (yeah, why didn’t I?) “You always …” (I do? I never do). But they’re not God’s words.
When we consider the words a person uses about us, we can let them make too big an impression on our own sense of self-worth. But we do have a choice.
We can choose who we listen to, and we can choose wisely.
Our sense of value is better when it comes from someone whose honest rebuke is trustworthy, and whose belief in us is transformational; our life decisions are better grappled with someone who knows us intimately, and loves us anyway. Someone who uses words like “I love you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3), “Even the very hairs on your head are numbered” (Matthew 10:29-31), “I know the plans I have for you, … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11), “Call to me and I will answer you” (Jeremiah 33:3). These are God’s words.
Around now, many people are studying into exams which will determine, at least in some part, what their next steps will be. But exams do not define us. Various life decisions go on all the time. Choosing one way or another won’t define us either. Through Jesus, we are called children of God, and his treasured possession. “I’m not good enough?” My God doesn’t think so. Jesus says you’re to die for.