Eight months pregnant, she faltered at the door, frustrated that her meeting had been cancelled. She walked in and we all applauded. Delight highlighted her smile as she realized we were throwing her a surprise stork party.
I'm starting to think we should cheer every time a person walks through a door. Everyone fights battles and sometimes just showing up is a heroic act.
I know this because for the last 18 months my husband has been receiving treatment for cancer. He’s had lumbar punctures, operations and chemotherapy. I can’t even remember half the procedures. Sometimes he’s had a team of nurses looking after him in the hospital, and other times it’s just me leaving a pile of food next to his bed, and telling him to call me if something goes wrong as I dash to my 9-to-5 job.
Sometimes when I arrive at the office I wonder how I did it. I think people should just be amazed that I’m dressed in clean clothes and my hair has been brushed. I wonder if anyone knows what it took just to get in the car, cry tears my husband doesn’t see, put a smile back on my face and walk in the door.
Behind that door are 20 colleagues fighting their own battles, people who need to hear cheering when they walk through the door: single moms with chronic illnesses and colicky babies, spouses addicted to alcohol or drugs, custody battles and miscarriages.
Life can be hard and often we forget how those around us need to be told they look good, or they amaze us, or that they can make it through this.
Sometimes I’m so busy fighting my own battles that I forget to extend grace to the people around me. I shout at the single mom tired from a night spent nursing her kid instead of congratulating her on the good work she’s doing. I send a short, angry mail to the mom whose husband is fighting drug abuse rather than picking up the phone and offering to look after their kids.
Instead of a cheer, I boo.
And it’s not just in the office where I don’t always shout approval. Sometimes I forget that the cashier at the shops might be fighting a battle too. Instead of a kind word, I grumble about why it takes so long to just scan a few items. Or I find myself frustrated with a call-center operator who sounds unhelpful.
I often retort without thinking about what the other person might be struggling with or what they might need to hear. I don’t think about how what I do or say may affect another person.
The Bible doesn’t underestimate the effect that our words of encouragement can have on others.
Ephesians 4:29 in The Message reminds me of this, “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift."
Each. Word. A. Gift.
Wow. When was the last time I viewed the words I speak that way? When was the last time you thought about how every syllable you utter is a present for someone else, that every time we open our mouths it can sound like a cheer as they walk in to a room.
I know how hard it is to do this in practice when you’re weary, stressed and wondering how you’ll make it through the next few weeks. I live in that reality too. I think in some way we all do.
Maybe you are the kind of person who will clap and shout when someone you know is fighting a battle walks in a room. I’m not that kind of person, and maybe you aren’t either, but I’m trying to recognize when a person is fighting a battle and watch the way I talk.
I’m learning how to speak as if each word is a gift, each sound a cheer.
I’m reminded as I write this of a famous quote by Plato, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Sometimes a person doesn’t need a whole room to erupt into applause when they walk through the door. Often a kind word is all that is needed or an offer of a seat in a long queue.
Kindness heals more broken lives than the sound of applause.
I want to be the kind of person whose presence is like a gift, who speaks words of kindness and makes other people feel like they are star of the show. I haven’t got it right yet; I often stand in the spotlight, and throw a fit like a starlet, but I know who I want to be and that is half the battle.
If you want to be that person too but don’t know where to start, why not join me in trying to do two things each day:
If you’re wondering what to do or say then start by thinking, ‘what would I like someone to do or say to me?’ and then do or say it to him or her.
Wendy van Eyck is proudly South African and lives in Johannesburg where she runs a 24-hour Gospel Music Television channel that broadcasts to 47 African countries. Her website www.ilovedevotionals.com features devotionals that range from learning about God while doing laundry to discovering biblical truths while caring for her cancer fighting husband. Follow her on twitter: @wendyvaneyck or find her on Facebook.