As humans, as women, as moms, as wives, even as friends, we underestimate the considerable power our words, our reactions, even our silences can have on others.
One of the most challenging and thought-provoking quotes I ever heard was Brennan Manning’s “In every encounter we either drain life or give life; there is no neutral exchange.” I’ll repeat it: “In every encounter we either drain life or give life; there is no neutral exchange.” Let’s say it together: “OUCH!”
I have thought about, taught about and shared that specific quote many times since I first heard it. It directly cuts to the heart. It offers no exceptions. “Every” means “every.”
Certainly we in no way replace or come remotely close to God in the literal giving and taking of life. But we do have the capacity to give joy and hope, love and assurance, security and encouragement. We can grant guidance and wisdom, sympathy and empathy. We can show acceptance and satisfaction, delight and inclusion, respect and honor. Each of these and many more grant kindness, provide hope, blow a calm wind on someone’s lifeless sails. They can indeed, figuratively if not literally, “give life.”
The opposite, of course, is equally true. We have the astonishing capability to absolutely “suck the life” right out of someone. What an ugly, horrible thought! But I realize I have done it – and have probably done it more often and “better” than I would ever like to admit.
In an instant, without thought or sometimes even intent, we can burst the joyful bubble of excitement of someone we dearly love. We can swiftly undermine courage, hard work, creativity, adventure, resolve, determination – – – the list goes on and on. My list could go on and on – I’ve done it – to my kids, to my husband and I know to others.
Just being aware of how my words, my reactions, my silences – – even my groans and my “huffs and puffs” – – can impact others has helped me try harder to not be a “life-sucker” but a “life-giver.” I still fail, but hope those occurrences are becoming fewer and fewer.
I used to be quicker to express my opinion, or my disappointment or my dissatisfaction. Even when I “know” I am right (ha ha), I am trying to first weigh the cost of my reaction. Generally, in any “cost/benefit” analysis, if I take the time to actually assess the situation (aka to “ponder” it), silence, words of encouragement or gratitude, as well as sweet acceptance greatly tip the scales toward giving “life” and not draining it. I’d like to think I’ve arrived at this place in life because of maturity, or wisdom, or becoming more Christ-like. And maybe I have – – or maybe I’ve just seen too many people close to me wither at my words or reactions.
Jesus said He came to give life, not only life, but “abundant” life. He is the source of all life. The enemy is like a thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy. (John 10:10). On whose side do I want to be? I don’t want to be a mom, or a wife, or a friend who takes the joyful life Jesus has given and “zaps” it into the draining life column.
I want the people in my care to flourish; to be refreshed and reenergized. I yearn for them to feel protected and loved. I desire them to be full of joy and hope and peace. I want to draw people to my Lord, not make them question His reality or influence in my life. My words and my attitudes can offer that to those around me if I use them as I know I should. I crave to be an inspiration, not a drawback.
Writes Frederick Buechner: “Sin sprouts, as banana trees on the Nile, whenever the effect of your relationships with others is to diminish rather than enlarge them. There is no neutral corner in your human encounters, no antiseptic arena in which ‘nobody else is hurt’ or ‘nobody else knows about it.’ You either make people a little better, or leave them a little worse. You define your faith and moral posture in the ordinary stuff of your daily routine. The Kingdom belongs to those, as artless as children, who love others simply and directly, without thinking about anything but them. The inheritors of the Promise are those unsung folks who lend others a hand when they’re falling. That’s the only work that matters in the end.”
Therein lays the question: Do I “give life” or “drain life”? Do I “diminish” others or “enlarge” them?
An awareness of the question is the first step. Thereafter comes the harder step of actually living up to the preferred answer. But we all have to start somewhere. . . .
Here is a great list I found a few years ago when I earnestly began my quest to infuse life. I found it very helpful in having a life-giving outlook. I hope you will find it equally so.
Take a few minutes to think about these suggestions – with regard to your children, your spouse, your neighbors, your friends and those you seek to influence or serve daily. It’s a great place to begin!
- Smile more.
- Hug more.
- Give more compliments.
- Write more love notes.
- Offer more forgiveness.
- Ask more follow-up questions.
- Show more interest.
- Have more compassion.
- Talk to more children.
- Remember more names.
- Leave bigger tips.
- Use kinder words.
- Laugh at more jokes.
- Make more eye contact.
- Treat others to more coffee.
- Listen more intently.
- Give more time.
- Stop to catch-up longer.
- Promote others more often.
- Be more optimistic.
- Be more sympathetic.
- Be more patient.
- Celebrate more successes.
- Ask to pray more often.
- Dream bigger dreams for others.
- Cook more meals.
- Ask elders for more advice.
- Spend more time reminiscing with old friends.
- Donate more to charity.
- Remember more details.
- Sing more songs.
- Display more affection.
- Give more apologies.
- Focus less on differences.
- Invite more to come along.
- Read more books to your child.
- Offer to help more often.
- Trust more.
- Give more responsibility.
- Say more thank-you’s.
Thought to Ponder: In my daily interactions with my kids, my spouse and those I come into contact with, do I even consider whether my words, my reactions, my non-words and my non-reactions, are infusing them with life or pulling the plug and letting their joys, hopes and dreams simply escape down life’s drain?
Coming Next: How do I “safe-guard” my loved ones to withstand my “life-draining” lapses?