My grandfather is dying. Which is a weird thing to think about. He’s always been immortal in my mind. He’s an institution. He can’t not be there. But soon he won’t be. There are a billion lessons wrapped up in this very intense season, but the most profound to me is the power of words. Words matter.
Exhibit A: I’m going to call him Pop for the rest of this blog, because saying “my grandfather” makes him seem weirdly distant. And I don’t want him to feel far away. I want him to feel close. Words matter.
Pop is part of the Silent Generation. He was old enough to understand what was happening when Naziism fell. He experienced the loss of his brother in his early years. He and my grandmother were lifelong residents of Ft. Thomas, Kentucky. In fact, Gram worried what people would say when they moved to Southgate, Kentucky in their sunset years, which is just one town over. He attended the church he was baptized in from the time he was an infant until recently when he couldn’t make it anymore. He is a true man of his era. He doesn’t complain. He works hard. He is calculated. To this day, even in his waning state, he is sharp as a tack and his wit is unmatched.
I say all of that to make this point: Pop’s words really matter. He uses them with great care and precision. He’s not flippant. He doesn’t say anything he doesn’t mean. His words are intensely and inherently believable. He’s the kind of guy that when he talks, you listen.
A couple of weeks ago I went to My Old Kentucky Home to say goodbye to Pop. It was gutting. The whole plane ride there, I was thinking about what I wanted to say to him. Because, you know, words matter. Especially when you’re running out of them. I didn’t get to say half of what I wanted to, because Pop isn’t the kind of guy who wants people gushing over him. And I’m a gusher. But I did get to tell him that I love him, that he was a really good grandpa, and that I’m going to miss him.
When I was leaving, Pop stood up and gave me a hug. With tears in his eyes, he said “Be good. Thank you for everything. I love you.” Those were probably the last words he will ever speak to me in person. A few things about this:
- I had never seen Pop cry, with the exception of when Gram, his wife of 60 years, passed away in 2016. So that felt like a swift punch to the throat.
- I can count on my fingers and toes the number of times Pop has said, “I love you” to me. I have always known he does love me, but it was very meaningful to hear him say those words one last time, especially when they are used sparingly.
- The part that stuck out to me the most was, “Thank you for everything.” Those four words changed the way I think about our relationship. I don’t think of myself as having ever done anything for Pop. He has given me everything: a wonderful mother, years of happy memories, and a life worth cherishing. To know that I returned that to him in even a small way brings a freshness to the dynamic of our relationship that I really hold dear.
Words matter and I will hold onto those nine words forever. Pop reminded me of a couple things by saying those words to me that I hope encourage you in the way you use your words.
- Our words hold the keys to life and death in them. Speak life to people. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” There are a billion lies that are being absolutely screamed at us everywhere we go. They tell us we aren’t good enough, we don’t measure up, we are defined by our failures, and we don’t have any worth. Any chance you get to speak truth against those lies, do it!
- Tell people what they mean to you. My mom always taught me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I think we also need to be doing the inverse of that: “If you have something nice to say, say it!” You know what I’ve started saying to people in my life? “I love you.” My male friends in their 20s and 30s will sometimes freeze up. And their wives really don’t know what to do when I say it to them. But I love them. And I want them to know it. I have started telling people why their friendship is important to me and the things about them I like. Because words matter and I want to use my words to build up the people that I love.
A funny thing you will experience if you implement these two practices in your life is people are going to look at you like you’re crazy. The idea of being kind, speaking the truth to people, and building one another up is so insanely counter-cultural that it sounds like a foreign language to people. All the more reason to do it. I’m ok with being looked at like I’m crazy in order to show people a better way to use the words that come out of our mouths. Are you with me?
Brad is a part of our Christ’s Church family and serves as the Church Relations Manager at one of our Impact Partners, Christ In Youth.