“Words can hurt like hail – pint sized punches that collectively break us down and bruise the heart.”
It was the night of the hail storm. My son and I were playing in the front room. My wife, Ginny, walked into the room. She was holding one of the twins, while an automated swing rocked his brother in the other room. Both boys were fighting sleep. Ginny had a decided look on her face. “Let’s go for a ride in the car.”
All three boys were relaxed in their carseats before we reached the end of the street. Our oldest, JE, is always up for an adventure. Riding in the car quickly settles the twins. All was silent, still, and calm. Ginny and I looked at one another. “So, how have you been?”
It was already late in the evening. Ginny and I had not eaten. We decided to stop by Hardee’s for a hamburger. We would eat as we drove the backroads of our rural county. We would share a quiet meal together. It would be an nice.
I pulled up to place my order. I asked for a kid’s chicken tender with milk, one “number 6,” and a quarter-pounder cheeseburger with lettuce and mayonnaise…make it a combo. Our total was given. We drove around to the window. A young woman appeared. She opened the window and said, “$17.85…” with a look of total dejection. I gave her my card and she disappeared. Moments later, she reappeared. She gave my card back to me. She handed our drinks to me and the bag with our food in it. I thanked her as I began to pull away.
“Wait!” Ginny exclaimed. I stopped abruptly. “I need a container for JE’s food. Oh, will you ask for some ketchup?”
I stuck my head out the window of the car. I had only moved about two feet. The young woman was still in the window… still dejected.
“Sorry,” I began. “Could I have a small container and some ketchup.”
What I wanted to hear was “My pleasure!” Instead, the young woman gave me her best BF! She pursed her lips, tilted her head, rolled her eyes as she said, “psshhh,” and turned from the window. All in one fluid motion! I was both impressed and offended…
I looked at my wife. She was smirking, because she knew how instantly irritated I would be. “Was that for real?” I asked her, in total disbelief.
I tried to let it roll off my back, but one should be very careful with a father of three boys – a toddler and three month-old twins with reflux – when he and his wife are out for a drive to calm their crying children and all they want is a simple cheeseburger, a little bit of quiet, and some flippin’ ketchup for their french fries!!!
The young woman returned to the window. Her eyes said everything. She handed me a container and a couple packets of ketchup.
“Thank you,” I said with disdain. “I realize how difficult that must have been for you to do.”
I immediately felt the poke in my shoulder. “I’m sorry,” I explained to Ginny as we left the parking lot. “But, it was nicer than what I wanted to say…”
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29 (NRSV)
Paul writes the church in Ephesus. He emphasizes unity among the followers of Jesus. He instructs the church to be united as one body. At one point in his letter, Paul identifies the power of one’s words. Our words have the power to build up or to break down. Speak no “evil talk,” which could harm another. Speak what can be useful for the building up of others. Above all, speak words that will convey the grace of God!
Speak words of grace, which carry the power to transform the old into the new. Speak words of grace, which carry the power to release the captive heart. Speak words of grace, which carry the power to raise death to life.
Ginny and I pulled out of the parking lot. We were only a half a mile into our drive as Ginny began to unwrap our food. Seriously…
I ordered the “Number 6,” the most unhealthy bacon, cheeseburger on the menu (#StressEating). I was given a grilled chicken sandwich. Ginny ordered a cheeseburger with lettuce and mayonnaise. She was given a hamburger with tomatoes and a lot of pickles (or something).
I was ready to turn around. I was ready to let the young woman have it. I was ready to tell her it was not my fault she worked the drive-thru window. I was ready to tell her to take pride in her work, even if she does not like her job. I was ready to say a lot.
Ginny said the only thing that mattered: “Ross, it’s not worth it.”
My wife was right. Speaking “evil talk” from the darkest part of my being would have only harmed this young woman. Nothing good, nothing holy, nothing pure would have come from such speech.
It was the night of the hail storm, which is unexpected for May in South Carolina. We were only a couple minutes removed when we entered into the storm. The “ping” of hail on our windshield stunned my wife and me. Each “ping” felt like a personal attack.
Words can hurt like hail – pint sized punches that collectively break us down and bruise the heart.
It occurred to me as I drove along, God presented me with an opportunity to build up my neighbor. Not only had I missed the opportunity, I also spoke with disdain. My words were not useful for building up this young woman. They were aimed at breaking her down.
I did not know this woman. I did not know her story. I did not know her situation. I did not know her struggles, her pains, her fears, or her anxieties. I did not know why she was working. I did not know who she was supporting with with her paycheck. I did not know what happened to her before her shift started. I did not know what happened to her since the start of her shift. Maybe I was not the first jerk to come along that evening!
God presented me with the opportunity to speak — a word of encouragement, a word of empowerment, a word of grace — to my neighbor. Maybe all this young woman needed was for me to speak the love of Christ to her. I missed this opportunity.
I realize we all miss on these moments from time to time, but maybe I can be a bit more intentional to offer words of grace…especially, at the drive-thru.
This reflection is the launch into a new sermon series. The messages of this series will explore the power of words to build up and break down. If you are interested, I will be posting a new message at the beginning of each week during the month of June. The series will be entitled, Words of Grace*. Please share any stories, responses, or opinions… Blessings, RC
*The original title was Sticks & Stones, but a the title Words of Grace seems more suiting to the topic.