What should I say? I don't always know. In fact, when I was in Boy Scouts years ago, I was looking through a Boy's Life. That was the scout magazine. It had those stories of older Boy Scouts who had received lots of merit badges and who rescued grandmothers from rising water.
Anyway, I saw at the back of the magazine and saw an advertisement for a course called "The Art of Conversation". I was shy at the time and often felt as if I didn't know what to say. I suppose I thought this course would let me know what to say.
This course came all the way from Chicago. Now I grew up in Dallas. All I knew is that Chicago was a very big city, much bigger than Dallas. Because it was a big city and far away, I assumed the course would be very good. (Or at least that was the way it seemed to this 12 year old).
I don't remember much about the course. I don't remember much about what I learned. I just remember checking the mailbox at our house on Alhambra until finally it came.
Now it is many years later. I am a husband, father, friend, and a person who speaks lots of words in a church setting. The issue is no longer shyness. But--I still have to wrestle with words. This is what I have seen and experienced:
- The incredible power of encouraging words. Wow! I am amazed at how God can use someone's affirmation and encouragement to make such a difference in another's life. I am still blessed by people who take the time to say something encouraging to me.
- The incredible destructive power of negative, critical words spoken by a person with a critical spirit. I've seen people destroyed at times by people who look for the negative in most any situation. A negative parent, boss, "friend", or church member can do such damage. How many people have been deflated by people who regularly pointed out the inadequacies in another person.
- The importance of speaking with both grace and truth. Speaking truth with out grace (whether in private conversation or in a public gathering) can do damage. The words may be true but they come across as harsh and without mercy. Speaking words full of grace but lacking in truth can cause one to be more concerned with being liked than speaking what is real, true, and necessary.
- The importance of personal integrity. You've seen these people. They are fearful people who allow themselves to become whatever the moment calls for. They "kiss up" to whoever they need to use. So they communicate to a person that they really like him or her, "How's your golf game? Do you still have that little place on the lake? Blah, Blah, Blah." Then when that person is not around, they run him in the ground with their words. Such duplicity is an integrity issue. Such a person has seriously compromised his integrity as well as anything that he might say.
Maybe conversation is an art. I don't know. I do know that words matter. I also know that words reflect what is really happening in a person's heart.