She meant it as a compliment, but twenty-some years later, I can still get a little annoyed when I think about it. Why is that? What is it about words that makes us carry them around in a niche at the back of our minds and take them out sporadically, only to founder in the bad feelings they evoke? I’ve decided in my adult years that I disagree vehemently with the old children’s doggerel that we heckled each other with, years ago…”Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Since I know there are human beings in atrocious conditions that I could never comprehend, I don’t want to this to be too sweeping of a statement, but it seems to me that bones will heal. Conversely, I’m also convinced that the pain of hurtful words may linger for a lifetime. If hers had actually been intended as hurtful, I might be writing this article from a completely different perspective.
When I tell you what she said, you’ll laugh at how thin-skinned I was. I really never was angry at her, but it just irked me to hear it. As I contemplate more, I think that the reason the comment comes back to me now is more about the truth (or potential for truth), than it is about the hurt. As I age, I find that I am examining the things I do more and more to be sure that I am leaving a legacy. No, not the same kind of legacy that Presidents and public figures seem to be so obsessed with. This is not about fame or public honor, but about the knowledge that I’ve fulfilled my purpose in life. I really don’t want to get to a point where I look back and decide that I’ve wasted all the opportunities that I’ve been blessed with, especially after it’s too late to redeem the time.
What did she say? Well, over the years, I have had the privilege of preaching at a number of services at my church. On the occasion I’m reminiscing about today, this elderly saint heard me preach for the first time. I’m sure it was just that she hadn’t pictured me as a preacher, or even a public speaker, but as I greeted individuals at the end of the service, she gripped my hand, smiled sweetly, and blurted, “What are you doing wasting your time in that dinky little music store?” I stuttered out a reply, which must have been satisfactory, since the dear lady remained my friend until she passed away some years later.
She meant it as a compliment! She wanted me to know how excited she was to have heard me preach! I think she was even saying that I had done a good job. But all I heard was, “You’ve wasted your whole life doing something completely worthless!” How do you deal with that?
The Lord knew I needed an answer to that question because a short time later (a few weeks, maybe), I was speaking with my Dad on the telephone and he asked if we could pray before we said goodbye. As he prayed, I heard the words, “…and bless Paul in the ministry you’ve given him there in the music store.”
Wow! How’s that for a contrast? On the one hand, the thought that preaching would be so much more worthwhile than the profession I was in, and on the other hand, the statement that we are ministers wherever we find ourselves in life. I’ve got to tell you, the light bulb went on! I was put in this very spot for a purpose! I don’t have to reproach myself for missed educational opportunities, or for my past lack of achievement in professional endeavors. I can make a difference right here, right now.
My dad used to love this hokey little song that our choir sang many years ago. I can’t remember the whole tune. I don’t even have all the words at the tip of my tongue, but the main thought was, “Bloom, Bloom, Bloom where you’re planted!” (Told you it was hokey!) And, that’s what I’m doing. You may think that I’m really just a bloomin’ idiot, but I’m pretty sure that the Good Lord wants us to buckle down and work right where we are. He may move us somewhere else, but we do the same thing wherever we land…Settle in and bless those around us!
Oh! And, let’s be careful how we compliment others. A backdoor compliment isn’t how we bless them at all. It’s more like the sting of nettles than the sweet aroma of a beautiful flower. And it’s a sting that might be felt for a long, long time.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of waters,
which brings forth fruit in its season,
and whose leaf also shall not wither.
Everything he does shall prosper.