How words are used is important, too

Sunday, August 1, 2010

When my wife and I were completely clueless parents (we've graduated to only somewhat clueless), we bought our children an outdoor play table to sit on our porch. One side of the table had sand in it, the other had water. The children could spend a day at the beach building sand castles without ever leaving the porch. What a great idea.

Somewhere along the line we forgot that sand, especially when wet, sticks to everything. The sand, once outside, migrated in small amounts inside. Sand was in the rugs, in the laundry, on and under the furniture and, don't ask me how, in the refrigerator.

Sand is beautiful, soft and inspiring. There is an instantaneous sense of relaxation when you step off the boardwalk onto the beach and sink into the sand. Sand, in all its beauty, is also an abrasive. It only takes one grain of sand under the leg of a chair that is slid across a hard wood floor to leave a scrape in the flooring.

Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that, like sand, our words can either inspire or ignite. It reads, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."

Speech is more than our words. In her book on body language, Tonya Rieman cites studies indicating that 93 percent of our communication is nonverbal. Only 7 percent of what we communicate to each other actually comes from the words that we use. Ages before Rieman's research, Proverbs revealed the truth that our speech is more than our words.

Notice both examples in this proverb are about creating a response. In both cases people are speaking. In both cases words are being exchanged. Yet the first case is defusing a tense situation, while the second is agitating the circumstances and making them worse. The major difference between the two is not the words that were used but the manner in which the message was delivered.

Just as one grain of sand damaged the floor, so too one harsh word can destroy a relationship. God speaking to us wants us to understand how to foster great relationships with those we love and work with.

The words we use and more importantly they way we use them can either foster or fracture our relationship with those that matter the most. The Lord gives us great tools to grow dynamic relationships.

Rob Hurtgen is a husband, father, minister and writer. Read more from him at

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