Helping Words

By John Lysaught

I was an unsaved junior in high school. In math class we had assigned seating and I sat next to Erin in the back of class with some friends. She wore thick glasses, her hair was unkempt, and she was always sad. Erin was a meek person, with a lack of self-confidence, and was not part of the popular crowd -- but a reject. From the moment I first saw her, I had her all figured out.

I spoke to Erin during class as often as I could. By the time class was half way over, I had her crying each time I spoke to her. I was so proud of myself. My friends thought it was great and I thought I had a pretty good gift: I could make people feel so bad about themselves that they would cry from listening to my words. I remember Erin would cry and plead with me to stop and her sorrow just feed my zeal to make her cry even more.

Now I wasn’t the only one who picked on Erin. She didn’t have a lot of friends and I later found out that her parents berated her all the time. She was a failure to them. Today we call what her classmates and I did, bullying, and what her parents did, emotional abuse. I am certainly guilty of contributing to her emotional pain and suffering.

One day, I couldn’t make Erin cry anymore. She ignored me and smiled at me when I tossed vile words at her, the worst I could think of, to get some reaction out of her but I couldn’t get any reaction out of her. She left class in a good mood. I was dumbfounded.

It was about 8 p.m. that same night when I got the phone call from a friend. Erin had just taken her dad’s .357 and shot herself in the head and killed herself. I cried and cried, like I am right now writing this (I never have written about this), knowing that I was partially responsible for her doing that to herself. She was only 17 years old. I used words to hurt. My words helped to kill.

Now knowing the warning signs of suicidal people, I can look back now and see her signs (not just me talking to her, but she gave her belongings away to people and discussed death a lot). These were textbook symptoms of what she was going to do. Erin was crying out for help. I didn’t listen; I was having too much fun making her feel lousy. I promised myself that day that I would never again use my words to hurt, that I would help people and encourage them.

Why did I tell you this story? Whenever I read the following verses I think of Erin:

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29, KJV).

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (Matthew 15:11, KJV).

In fact, I think about her all the time and wonder how well she would have turned out as a person, a mother, or wife, or a lover of Jesus. I will never know. I think that if I had used my words to help instead of hurt, I would be writing about something else right now.

But what is done is done. I am forgiven by grace and the sacrifice of Christ; though I still feel great regret and think of this verse:

“But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37, KJV).

I cannot remember one time since that phone call when I purposely participated in evil. I didn’t know Jesus at the time, but looking back, I feel the Spirit had clearly spoken to me regarding my use of words to encourage and not hurt. I now find joy in encouraging people and helping them feel well and good about themselves.

My mom always told me to be careful of what I said because you can’t take words back. Once they are out of your mouth, they are out there; there are no take backs. Even if you say you’re sorry, your vile words linger in the mind of the receiver. How about you? What comes out of your mouth? Do you let vileness flow from your mouth towards strangers, friends, or loved ones? Do you use your mouth to put people down? I think we are all guilty of our tongues doing more damage than physical pain to someone without knowing what the consequences of our words may do to someone.

I think it is important to use your voice, your tongue, to encourage people, especially as it relates to people’s struggles, problems, and relationship with others and the Lord. Each person has the power to hurt or help others with their mouth. This is something we all know but fail sometimes at doing. We fail because we get frustrated, we have bitterness in our hearts, or we just don’t care about another’s feelings, only our own.

We’ve all felt rejection and the sting of harsh words, so why would we want to project the same to others? Jesus is our example of how we should speak to one another. Sure He admonished folks (Pharisees and such) but that is different than using words to hurt and cause pain in people’s heart. Jesus, when he spoke, was of peace, love, and encouragement. Shouldn’t we emulate that attitude to others?

If you are guilty as I am of using words that have caused someone great pain, there is still hope for you, hope for forgiveness from Christ. Christ is God’s only Son. God gave his Son to all sinners as atonement for our sins. Christ took every imaginable sin that you can think of that has ever been or will be committed and sacrificed himself so we can be sinless in the eyes of the Lord when we die. If you accept Christ as your Savior and acknowledge that He did die for your sins, then you are considered clean in the eyes of the Lord. Even I, using words that helped push a young woman to kill herself, am forgiven because Christ died for me for that sin and the countless others that I committed and will commit in my life.

I took that horrible experience and turned it to work for Christ. You can do the same. If you think you have done something unforgivable, that you are not worthy of being forgiven, you are incorrect. Your sins are forgiven if you accept that Christ died for you and accept Him as your Lord and Savior. There is no sin that is too great to be forgiven. You can use your past experiences to help lead people to Christ, to encourage those that need a little push for Christ.

Satan will try to convince you that your sins are too great or numerous to be forgiven. Don’t listen to that voice in your head that is telling you are not worthy of forgiveness. By accepting Christ, all your sins are forgiven and the discouraging feelings or thoughts that Satan throws your way can be put behind you. Don’t listen to them and if they do pop in your mind and if Satan does get a hold of your ear, just rebuke him and remind yourself that Christ covers your sins, all of them.

I can attest that my change in attitude and words has helped a great many people. I believe they have turned a few people’s thoughts of suicide away, thus saving their lives, all by the grace and guidance from the Holy Spirit. I have encouraged people to the Lord, and use my words to help build people up, not down. The Lord has all the praise for this change. I will never have another Erin situation happen to me as long as I use my voice for Christ and discuss His grace for salvation.

I urge those of you who have had an “Erin” in your life to ask for forgiveness and allow God to use those experiences to further His ministry message of salvation through Christ. Remember, you are forgiven and you are called to use all things for good and the furtherance of Christ’s message of hope.

John Lysaught