“Keep looking up.”  “Don’t look back.”  “It’s all about what you look at.”  “It’s all about how and what you think.”  “Fall down 3 times; get up 4.”  “You don’t fail until you quit.” “There are far better things ahead than what we leave behind.”  “Your past doesn’t dictate your future.”  “If you  don’t build a house on a solid foundation, fixing the door is not going to help.”  “You will survive and thrive.”  “It’s about what you’re made of, not the circumstance.”  “When you quit believing in the magic of life, you get a life without magic.”

Then there are the lists.  Self-help lists. “10 Steps to a Better You.”  “5 Things That Will Help You Overcome Depression.”  “9 Ways to Overcome the Negative in Your Life.”  “5 Steps to Happiness.”  “30 Positive Affirmations.”  “To Perform Best in Life, Remember These 6 Truths.”  “5 Cardinal Rules for Life.”  “8 Rules to Jump-start Your Success.”  ” How to Love Yourself in 20 Steps.”

Words. Words meant to change us.

So many nice slogans and lists to live by.  Concise.  Inspiring.  Uplifting.  They sound so good.  So simple.  So fine.

We are bombarded by slogans.  Slogans to guide us. Move us.  Easy steps to a new you.  A new life.  A place where everything will finally be wonderful and positive and easy.  And better.  Always better.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in the power of words.  I love words.  They allow us to connect.  To express what is in our heart.  What we think, feel, hate, want, fear, enjoy, love.  They can inspire us, encourage us, save us…or destroy us. 

Words are extremely important.  But they aren’t everything.  Sometimes we need more.

A hug.  A kind and gentle touch.  Someone to hold our hand.  A mentor.  A friend.  Someone to walk with us.  To love us, even though we are horribly imperfect.  To forgive us.  To give us a lift up.  To extend compassion and mercy.  To do more than say words of love.  To show love.  Tangibly.

Sometimes supportive, loving silence says more than a million carefully crafted words.

Sometimes, you need food, money, employment, a place to live that is warm and fairly safe.  Sometimes you need a second chance.  Or a third.  Hope.  A purpose.  A reason to live.

Words can help.  Sometimes, they help a great deal.  But they can only go so far.  Supportive words alone won’t make that great of a difference.

Certainly, words are powerful.  Positive words can lift you up and help you see a pin-prick of light in the darkest night.  But, interestingly, negative words wound the soul and destroy with much greater power.  Twenty positives are easily decimated by just one negative.  And it takes a hundred positives to bring restoration after that decimation.  Negative words have more force.  They cut far deeper.  Their punch is harder.  It takes a lot more than positive words heal such destruction.  Affirmations have a limited impact in the face of this kind of destruction.  Catchy slogans and sayings are a band-aid.   A patch.  If the wound is relatively shallow, that is often enough.  But when the wound has cut to the core, all the fine words in the world will not bring healing and restoration. 

For one thing, they can’t be embraced or believed.  Can’t be taken in.  Not when the heart has been destroyed.  Not when the person hearing them doesn’t believe.  And when you don’t believe you have any value at all, you can’t believe the positive message.  Not in relation to yourself.  You can’t receive it in any way.  It bounces off.  Zero impact.  Shame creates a force field around your soul.  It protects you from further damage, but also prevents you from hearing anything that might offer a different perspective.  Thus, you remain in the prison of worthlessness and can’t believe you deserve anything good.

But another thing comes into play as well.  How many times have you been offered a helping hand that never materialized?  How many times have you been told that you matter, only to be rejected and cast aside yet again?  How many times have you been shunned because you weren’t enough?  Not pretty enough.  Successful enough.  Bold enough.  Humble enough.  Smart enough. Positive enough.  Cool enough.  You learn that people will be nice to your face, but stab you in the back, even while they look you in the eye.  So you take every word that is spoken with a grain of salt.  Disbelieving.  Weighing what is said and mixing it with a healthy dose of caution and disregard.  Because words are often spoken to mask the truth that lies within the heart of another.  Hiding our intentions and motives.  They are used as a disguise to make us look better than we are.  They are spoken without meaning and, therefore, have no weight.

Perhaps this is why negative words slice so much deeper.  Because when negatives are revealed, they are often spoken in anger or frustration and the truth seeps out in our tirade.   We know the insincerity of most positive affirmations we receive, just as we know the truth in hurtful, spitting words.  So we deflect and disregard the positives, even as the harsh and cutting words hit home.

There is truth in many of the sayings and lists to live by that bombard us daily.  But the problem I see with these sayings is that they take a very narrow view of life and discount complexities and brokenness of the soul.  The problem with oversimplifying a very complicated reality is this:  words that are meant to be inspiring become a club to beat people with.  It’s all made to sound so easy, without taking the challenges, and roadblocks of life into account.  And we are labeled a fool and slacker if we aren’t transformed as we repeat the words to ourselves each day as we look into the mirror while getting dressed.  The repetition is supposed to instantly change us…and it must be our fault if that miraculous transformation doesn’t take place.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”  “Put on your big girl panties.”  “Two men looked out through prison bars.  One sees mud; the other, stars.”

But what if you can’t? 

When you can’t lift your eyes from the ground because you have been so badly and deeply wounded that just getting out of bed in the morning takes every. bit. of energy.  you. possess.  How can you see the stars?  This is when you need more than words.  You need someone to stand by your side, to lift your head, hold you, and help you reach for those distant pricks of light you can’t even begin to believe or comprehend.  You need encouraging words and a gentle, loving touch.  Maybe even someone to carry you while you rest and heal.

You don’t need someone telling you that you are all wrong, disgusting, and unacceptable because you can’t lift your eyes.  You don’t need them telling you it’s all in your power and control, if only you would just DO what they tell you to do.  If only you would just SAY the right things.  If only you would just ACT as if everything was the way you wanted it to be.

Words are like a gun.  Powerful.  Able to provide sustenance and protection.   But also able to kill and destroy.  Like a gun, they are a tool.  To be used responsibly.  They should not be used to belittle or to take power.  To take the spark of life from the soul.

Don’t shoot from the hip with your clever, simplistic slogans.  Use your words to feed yourself and others.  Carefully.  Lovingly.

Remember. Not everyone can raise their eyes to seek the light of the stars.  Many have been wounded so badly, it’s all they can do to trudge through the mud that surrounds them one slow, broken step at a time.  So here’s a thought.  Don’t be a person who beats others down even further with your admonitions.  Gently, ever so gently, hold them.  Hold them and lift their weary head.  Wash the mud from their beaten, bruised, bloody face and eyes.  Then walk with them toward the light.  Give practical assistance and support.  Until you have set them free.  Then, all those wonderful words of encouragement will lift them up and let them fly.


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