You may have heard about the upcoming court case in Massachusetts regarding a young man’s suicide. The case focuses on a series of conversations between him and a young woman and hinges upon the nature of those conversations, and the words that were exchanged between them.
Young men and women talk to each other all the time—in more forms now than ever in history. They text, they tweet, they Instagram, they pin, they google+, they skype, they ‘hang-out’, they e-mail, and in crisis situations where those forms are temporarily unavailable, have been known to actually speak to each other with their mouths, but that’s outmoded, and they try to keep that to a minimum. That the Massachusetts teenagers engaged in an exchange of words is perfectly normal, and to be expected in any healthy relationship—only this one was apparently not healthy at all, and neither were the words that were allegedly shared. The troubled young man reportedly was about to back out of a plan to end his life, and the young woman is said to have encouraged him to follow through and get it over with.
Because of the tragic outcome, intense scrutiny will applied to the actual words that were said, of course, but also to the intent of the person speaking them, and finally, to the circumstances under which they were presented. The question before the jury will be whether the young woman’s words contributed to the boy’s death to the point that she is criminally liable. This is a serious question, involving a very controversial issue, and a case with benchmark implications. And as such, it deserves our attention and some thoughtful consideration because it has implications beyond the legal ones. It reminds us, for instance, that what we are inexorably connected to the impact of what we choose to say, and that what we say can significantly influences the decisions of those who hear us. Of all the forces that have affected welfare and the destiny of men and nations, nothing can begin to equal the power of words. The potential power of spoken and written words overshadows everything in the case of the Massachusetts teenagers, and we need to take note of it, because the power of words isn’t just negative.
In the course of a recent visit to a rehabilitation center to see a resident that I knew, I had the unexpected opportunity to meet another man and his wife. He shared the room with the man I had come to see, and it was obvious that he and his wife were very anxious and concerned. We talked a bit about his condition and his struggle against cancer, and as we did, I shared with them my own source of hope and strength in difficult and challenging times – that of Jesus Christ and what He did for us. I mentioned that He had made a way to be with us, and to grant peace even in the midst of trials like the one facing them. We held hands and prayed together at his bedside, thanking Him for the marvel of the cross, and the mercy and grace that He pours out on us when we confess our sins and place our faith in Him. There were smiles and a different countenance as I left amid their offerings of gratitude for our time together. The next morning, I received a call informing me that he had died unexpectedly early the next morning.
His wife told me later that there was a sense of comfort and encouragement that came to her as we prayed, and how it gave her hope even though he was gone. I didn’t really do anything to help them, and all I had to offer were some words. I couldn’t heal him, or alter his condition physically. The circumstances they faced were beyond our control, and all I could do was give him what Jesus had given me in my own state of hopelessness—His words. They weren’t new words, and they weren’t even my own words, but that didn’t matter, because they were effective words. They were the same words that brought life and hope to me, and to my wife, and my children. They were the same words that I’ve told countless times to people in all kinds of circumstances. They’re just simple words, but I’ve watched them stand like an invincible fortress against everything the world has found to throw against them—pain, loss, hatred, anxiety, fear, sickness, rejection, betrayal, everything. They may seem to be just words, but there’s overcoming power in them. There’s eternal life in them.
A disturbed and vulnerable young man in Massachusetts died, and perhaps the words of someone he trusted had something to do with that. She didn’t point a gun at him, or stab him with a knife, or plant a bomb in his car. She just wrote some words to him. They were simple words, easy to speak or to write, but there was despair in them, hopelessness in them—death in them. Whether she knew what power her words carried, I don’t know. Whether her words pushed him over the edge, again, none of us knows for sure, but there’s a lesson for us here. What if someone had given him a different set of words? What if he had been given words with life in them, words with hope in them, words with power to overcome in them? Maybe no one would be writing about a tragedy involving him now, and maybe he’d be telling other people about the words that changed his mind, changed his heart, and saved his life.
At one point Jesus asked his disciples if they were going to abandon Him like so many had done. Peter answered for the group and said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68 NKJV). Those living words originate in Him, but they can flow freely and powerfully through every mouth, in every language, in every circumstance, and to any person anywhere. Maybe some troubled kid, or someone you just met who’s closer to death than he thinks, or some co-worker wrestling with hidden troubles is desperately waiting to hear them from you. In a culture obsessed with the impact of what goes into our mouths, maybe some of that scrutiny ought to be focused instead on what comes out.
© 2015 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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