This is part two of a series about Bill, who enrolled in hospice services with end-stage colon cancer when he was 89 years old. Bill was born and raised in “The Bottoms” of Lucasville. He worked at the New Boston steel mill for 43 years and became the superintendent over the electrical and communications departments, supervising 200 “roughneck steel workers.” Bill reflected, “As a young man I followed engineers around and was always asking ‘Why?’ I was known as the ‘why kid’.” Bill was fascinated with mechanics, electricity, nuclear physics, electromagnetics, convection, acoustics and a host of other subjects. He was just as fascinated and familiar with the Word of God as he was with the laws of physics, for he reckoned them as emanating from the same “head engineer.”
During one of my visits, Bill reminisced about his work as a superintendent at the steel mill: “One day, a fellow approached me and said, ‘I’d like a few minutes to talk with you.’ I braced myself, because as a superintendent, I was used to working with the union and I was accustomed to people coming to see me to complain. Then the fellow told me, ‘I just want to tell you that you are a really nice guy.’ Then he said, ‘Most people never hear someone say something good about someone until they walk by their casket and they are lying there with their arms crossed. It’s then that they say, ‘He sure was a really nice guy, wasn’t he?’ Then the fellow told me, ‘I want to tell you so you can hear it’.” Bill concluded, “I always wondered if I would be that kind of a person.”
Bill’s story launched us into a discussion about the power of our words, about the importance of “giving credit where credit is due,” about telling people how we feel about them while we have the chance. The writer of the Book of Hebrews exhorts us to “… encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘today’” (NASB, Hebrews 3:12). And Wise King Solomon wrote, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue …” (Proverbs 18:21).
If you are a Clint Eastwood fan, you may remember this scene from the movie, “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (YouTube: “Josey Wales and Ten Bears”): “You be Ten Bears? I am Ten Bears. I’m Josey Wales. I came here to die with you or live with you. With governments. you don’t always get a fair word or a fair fight. Well, I’ve come here to give you either one, or get either one from you. I came here like this so that you know my word of death is true, and then that my word of life is then true.” Ten Bears responded, “There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron; it must come from men. It shall be life.”
Words of encouragement are “words of life,” but for them to “hold the iron,” they must be “true”. Encouragement shouldn’t be confused with mere flattery, emotional manipulation or infused enthusiasm. According to Dr. Lawrence Crabb, “Encouragement is the kind of expression that helps someone to be a better Christian, even when life is tough.” I would add, “A better person, husband, wife, mother, father, son, daughter, friend, etc.” (Encouragement: The Key to Caring)
An encouraging word, “words of life,” can rekindle hope when resignation, mediocrity or despair has set in. Encouraging words can reroute a life with generational ripple effects. Allow me to share a personal example. It was my senior year of high school, and my friend Bill and I were sitting across the table from one another in study hall. Bill shared, “Dad said he wants to pay for you to go with me to a speed-reading course. He wants me to take it to prepare for college.” I explained, “But I’m not going to college. I’m planning on working at the steel mill.” Then Bill shared, “But Dad said he sees something in you.” Mr. Newberry saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and his “words of life” rerouted my life. When I shared this story with my wife, Susie, she reflected, “Just think, if you hadn’t gone to college, we may have never met.” And I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing this story.
In conclusion, seeing how “… life and death are in the power of the tongue,” let’s never put off an opportunity to speak an encouraging word. Let’s speak the words while they can hear it. And just in case you are wondering, Bill was “that kind of person.” Bill was an encourager. The question is, “Will we be?”
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.