This seems like a fitting day to post on the power of the “right” words because my second-born child – and favourite son* – turned eight this morning. And when I was pregnant with Levi, someone said exactly the right words at exactly the right time.
*When I was younger my Mom would often say, “You’re my favourite…youngest daughter.” It always gave me a thrill. To be called favourite anything felt special, so using this designation today honours her diplomatic wording all those years ago.
By way of a quick summary: we received some unsettling test results at our 20-week ultrasound and walked away from the hospital with a 1 in 4 chance our baby was going to be born with an underlying health condition. The whole experience was exhausting and the weight of uncertainty sometimes felt unbearable. When we shared this news with our friends, family, and church community, people rushed to offer sympathy and supportive stories of how they had encountered others in similar experiences where “everything had turned out ‘fine.'” Perhaps, under different circumstances, this would have been the response I needed to hear.
This time it was not.
And then someone I didn’t know very well came to me and simply said: I want you to know that you can call me – any time of the day or night – and I will pray for you.
That’s it. No promise that things would be okay. No story about someone else’s experience.
About a week after Levi was born – healthy – a different friend asked: Tell me how you’re actually feeling about everything that has happened.
I was stunned by this question. Because in the middle of a wave of relief and joy, there were so many other emotions. Guilt over my relief. Sadness over how much time I had spent in worry. Exhaustion from the whole experience. Everyone else in my life – logically – assumed all I felt was relief. But my emotions were extremely chaotic (hello postpartum hormones), and to have someone genuinely interested in plumbing deeper – beyond the situationally “appropriate” feelings – was a powerful experience.
I’ve also written about when a friend told me, in response to my catastrophizing about an inability to breastfeed, that my daughter could “still be a doctor.” Those words were exactly what I needed to hear and tangibly impacted my long-term view of my failed attempts. All of this accomplished in less than 10 words.
I’m not particularly good at finding the right words at the right time. That’s one of the reasons I like to write – I can take time to process and measure my speech to match the posture of my heart.
Also, no doubt we’ve all been wounded – perhaps for life – by unkind words. But the reverse is true, too. The right words can radically impact how we view the world or ourselves.
Finally, Happy Birthday to my sweet boy. Always and forever, my very favourite son.
Your turn. Do you know someone who has an uncanny ability to find the right things to say to lift a conversation, soothe an emotional wound, or enact change? Can you think of a time when someone has said “just the right thing” when you needed it most?