Many years ago I taught in the secondary grades. So mostly 7th – 12th graders. Those years where most people say, “I don’t know how you do it; I could never spend my day surrounded by teenagers!” Well, someone has to do it, and I was thankful that God could use me with such a great age group.
As in most school settings, teachers work together in teams. This serves a lot of purpose, one of which being the opportunity to bring balance to individual student needs – not all students interact with all teachers equally and everyone needs an advocate from time to time. As in the case of one young person who was struggling with his social, personal, and educational position in life. I can remember sitting in a room with him and two other teachers, I am pretty sure he was slightly inebriated, and one of the teachers asked him, “Son, what do you want to with your life?” I can remember at that very moment thinking to myself, “What does he want to do with his life? The kid is just trying to sleep off an obvious hangover, and you’re asking him what he wants to do with his life!?!”
I knew that condemnation walked into the room when we pushed that sentiment on that young man. I knew he had no clue what he wanted to do with his life because he didn’t feel valuable.
The words we speak in our relationships can bear a lot of weight. The way we approach conflict can come across with a heaviness of condemnation if we are not careful to start with grace. Our job in our relationships, even as much as we want to think it is, is not to change other people. Only God can change people. If our words do not carry the weight of God’s words they have more opportunity to hurt. Instead of getting people to focus on what they don’t do right, get them to focus on what He did right when He created them.
Several days after meeting with that student, and enough time for his hangover to wear off, I met with him again and reminded him what a valuable person he was. I told him that he was created with purpose, and that if he could believe he was valuable, that would take him further than if he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
There will be so many times in life when we need to encourage someone we love that things will be ok, even if we don’t have answers in the natural. Being brave in our relationships means speaking to the truth of what God says, and not what the natural circumstances might say. It may look like someone is hopeless, but speaking to their hope is much more valuable. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
If there is one relationship where you know you need to brave grace with your words, just try it. Even if it feels foreign to address truth instead of addressing behavior, don’t be afraid to embrace the courage it takes to speak a better word.