It was my first week back in Singapore after being away for four years serving on board the OM ship, Doulos. I was excited to see my loved ones again, and looked forward to sharing my missions journey and catching up with everyone. At church, friends greeted me with hugs and smiles. One of them even drew a picture of the Doulos for me with the message, “Welcome home!” I was touched by these gestures and my heart was beaming. Then someone called out to me. It was an older lady who was surprised that I was back. She took a good look at me and said, “What happened to you? You look prosperous! The ship must have fed you well.”
I totally didn’t expect that, and my face burned with embarrassment. Wasn’t she supposed to ask, “How are you?” instead of “What happened to you?” Why wasn’t she interested to find out how I was doing, but eager to comment about the way I looked? Her words troubled me. They made me conscious of the fact that I had gained five kilograms because my body had trouble adjusting to the ship’s food — ham, cheese, bread and potatoes were served daily — and the calories just piled on. All of a sudden, my heart sank and I felt ugly. Really ugly.
How we see ourselves can be strongly affected by what others say about us. When words are used intentionally to affirm and encourage someone, that person is being built up. However, when insensitive or unkind words roll off our tongues loosely, they can significantly hurt and tear down someone’s self-esteem.
God’s Word reminds us of this very power of words. In Proverbs 18:21, it says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Even though the tongue is a small part of the body, we shouldn’t underestimate its power. The tongue is strong enough to bring life and destruction, depending on our choice of words, and the manner in which we speak. Another wise saying is in Proverbs 25:11 — a word spoken appropriately is “like apples of gold in settings of silver” (ESV). How precious and beautiful it is when a timely word is given! Our ability to speak is a gift from God, and when we choose to use this gift of speech wisely and lovingly, we not only edify people made in God’s image, we also please the Creator Himself.
When I was studying in Bible college, due to the stress of many assignments and late nights, I lost quite a bit of weight. The funny thing was that another older lady at church then made the same comment: “What happened to you?” She went on to say that I was too thin and needed to eat more. This time, I could laugh it off and not let her words bother me because I had learnt to anchor my self-image in God’s words of truth — that I’ve been wonderfully made by Him (Ps 139:14).
True beauty and worth are not found in how we look, but in who we are becoming. The most beautiful women I’ve met are those whose hearts pursue God, who speak words of life and reach out to others. Let us be a different voice in an #instaperfect generation. May we look away from self, look to God, and seek out opportunities to speak powerful words of kindness and love that affirm others of their true beauty and worth.
Small things can be powerful despite their size. Can you think of something else that is small but powerful? It lives right in the centre of your mouth — the tongue!