There are times when something I write elicits such a response that I do not feel comfortable moving on quickly. This has been true of what I wrote last week about believing in the power of words. What makes me want to stay close to this topic another week is how many of you wanted me to get practical, to talk about the exact words I use to encourage and ignite destiny in the hearts of those around me.
I’m happy to hang out here a bit longer.
I have a very simple approach to using words to build people. There are four perspectives I try to embed in them: God, The Past, The Future, Me. I’ll use these four perspectives more formally if I’m meeting with someone specifically to help them see themselves clearly. There is also the opposite end of the spectrum when I’m just being an encouraging friend and want to leave a buddy better than I found him before an hour of racquetball. For both and for everything in between, I think in terms of the past, the future, God’s perspective, and my perspective.
I talked recently to a young guy newly out of college who is still thrashing around a bit. He’s had his successes but he’s also been stupid about girls and a few jobs. So, over pizza, I’ll work in something like this:
“Dude, for a 26 year-old you’re already kickin’. You graduated with honors, won that award from your academic department, started your own business, and got international attention for that big marketing project. Thankfully, you’re a knucklehead like the rest of us. You blew a few dates and couldn’t make that partnership work. Thank God you’re human. It would be too much for the rest of us if you were as perfect as you want to be.
So I keep wondering what God intended when he put your particular gifts in your particular mind and body and put it all in the world right now. I’m thinking there’s a reason that is about to become real clear to you and I’m excited about it. We need dudes like you, with your smarts, your hard earned character, your experience, and your openness to hearing wisdom from geniuses like me!”
Now, I won’t say this all at once. I’ll work it in piece by piece over an hour together and between great big bites of pepperoni and cheese. Notice, though, I’ve drawn from my young friend’s past, God’s purposes, his future, and my view of him. This is my arsenal of encouragement.
Now, suppose I see this guy a few weeks later at a football game. I watch him come into the stands, chat with friends, and then walk over and sit by me. At some point, I’ll say:
You really have a way with people, don’t you? Particularly young men. Did you notice how those high school guys gathered around you? They hung on your every word. You have a real gift, my friend. I bet you’ve seen it all your life. God’s gonna use that, believe me.
Again, I spread all these ideas out over everything we say during the game. Now, suppose my young friend says to me, “You know, I’ve always wanted to be a Churchill to young men.” I listen. I ask questions. I figure out what he means.
Now, you can be sure the next time I see this guy, he’s not going to be Tom or Bob. He’s Churchill. I’ll call him this in public, ask his parents how Churchill is doing and, in private, I’ll ask him what he’s doing to rise to his name. I’ll hope to catch him on a date. I’ll turn to his lady and say, “How’s it feel to be dating Churchill?” She won’t understand, but when I walk away, he’ll have to explain.
Now, I’m certainly able to talk to him about more mundane matters in life. I just make sure that every conversation includes a big-brotherly grab of the shoulder and a passing reminder that I see him as Churchill, know that he’s special, and expect more of him in the years to come as a result. It can all be quick and casual—“Don’t forget the fries, Churchill”—but the words I paint on his soul might live forever.
I do the same with my wife. She’s the most beautiful woman in the world to me. I have my pet names for her. I have my compliments. I have my flirty ways. Then, I tell her how I see her as a woman of character, wisdom, and counsel. I tell her how I see her as above all women. I want her glowing when she thinks of how I think of her. I also want her to blush, but that’s none of your business!
Remember that this is done in phrases, greetings, a sentence in an email, a whispered phrase at bedtime. You hold up mirrors of every size and kind for the people you love. They see themselves a thousand different ways. They never forget.
The art is to get a sense of who the other person is and who they can be. This comes through knowing them, envisioning their future, and much prayer. Then, you begin to paint confirming images through your words. These words can be humorous. They can be poetic. They can be brief. All that matters is that they penetrate and paint. The images they create must be clear and loving enough to inspire a life.
My goal is to have everyone I’m close to carrying a noble image of who they are in their hearts. I want my wife and children to carry verbal images that radiate every day. I want my friends to have something of the same. The valet guy at the restaurant or the son of a distant friend might also be changed by a sentence or two.
I don’t have myself confused with Jesus. I don’t think I’m creating destinies. I’m just confirming. I’m just playing my role. I’m building up whoever I can. Most of all, I’m building a culture of healing, inspiration and love around me.
Okay. That’s it. Have a good weekend. And go Notre Dame!
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