Several years ago, I did an internship at a church where I had a friend named Matt. Matt had a crush on a young lady named Amy, who also attended the church, but the poor guy couldn’t figure out if she felt the same way about him or just liked him as a friend. Every day he would fill me in the latest developments, and every night I would come home from work and update my wife on the unfolding saga.
One day Amy decided she actually did want to go out with him, and I couldn’t wait to see my wife to tell her that they were officially an item. Everybody loves juicy gossip, right? So, when we met for dinner that night, I just blurted it out.
Now, here’s where things went bad. What I meant to say was, “Guess what? I have big news. Matt has a girlfriend.” However, what I actually said was, “Guess what? I have a girlfriend!”
As you can imagine, I didn’t quite get the reaction I’d been expecting. Let me tell you, those four omitted words cost me a major explanation. How do you recover from that? It’s amazing how choosing the wrong words can totally change your day.
Usually when we think of about the power of words, we think about great orators or world leaders. We think about President Kennedy challenging the nation to put a man on the moon or Martin Luther King Jr. declaring that he had a dream. Yes, those words, and many others like them, have changed the world.
But little words change the world too. You don’t have to be a public speaker to turn the tide of history with your mouth.
Think about some of the most powerful words that have changed your world. Maybe they were positive words like, “marry me,” or “it’s a boy!” Maybe, though, they weren’t so positive. Maybe the words that changed your world were words like “miscarriage,” “cancer,” or “It’s over. I’m leaving.”
Simple words spoken in private moments have the power to totally alter the trajectory of our lives and the lives of those we touch. Maybe that’s why the Bible compares our tongue with the rudder of a ship. Though it’s small in size, it can change the course of a massive vessel.
Little words can have big results. They can offer hope and grace or they can crush and destroy. Yet, instead of respecting their power, I spend them like pennies, rarely keeping track of them and often forgetting their worth.
But pennies add up, and so do our words. So if you want to invest your words well, consider using these three tiny phrases that have changed my world time and time again:
1. I’m sorry.
For some reason these can be two of the hardest words in the English language to say out loud. Our pride keeps us from admitting our mistakes and humbling ourselves before people we’ve wronged. Saying “I’m sorry” makes us vulnerable, and we have no guarantee how the other person will respond. But you just can’t beat a sincere apology when it comes to building relationships and opening the door for deeper intimacy.
2. I forgive you.
As tough as it can be to ask for forgiveness, it can be tougher still to extend it. When someone hurts us, we feel like they owe us, and the injured part of us does not want to let them off the hook. We want them to feel the pain that they’ve caused us – and then some. We, forget, though, that all of us have messed up. We’ve all fallen short of the perfect example Jesus set for us. Yet God has no problem forgiving all of our junk. So, when it comes to forgiving others, how can we do anything less? Saying, “I forgive you” sets everyone free.
3. I love you.
When someone really knows you, knows even the ugliest parts of you, and still says they love you, man, that is powerful stuff. For some reason I struggle with telling people that I love them, but I know I can’t leave these words unsaid. I can never assume someone knows that I love them, and even if they know it, they still need to hear it out loud. We all tend to believe the worst lies about ourselves, and we desperately need the unconditional love of others to remind us of our intrinsic worth. “I love you” says someone accepts you just as you are, yet believes in the possibility of all you may become.
You want to change the world? Pack these three phrases away in your back pocket and bust them out as often as possible. And here’s the trick, mean them, really mean them. You don’t have to be Abraham Lincoln to inspire and encourage. You just have to be willing to open your mouth and speak the words that everyone needs to hear.