We have a 12-year-old foster daughter. She’s been through a lot, but she chooses not to show it. Usually. As I helped her with her math once, she mentioned that her teacher hadn’t taught them “those” — and pointed to a fraction.
“She probably assumed you already understood them,” I explained. “You normally learn fractions in about third grade, I think.”
“My third grade teacher said I was an idiot so she wouldn’t teach me anything,” she stated with remarkable indifference.
The words of the proverb came to mind, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords … the perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”
After Israel had been crushed, quite literally, by the Babylonians and faced the daunting task of rebuilding — a city, a wall, a temple, a people — the Lord offered these words of encouragement: “Your builders outdo your destroyers.”
This phrase struck me because, frankly, it sometimes feels like there are a lot more destroyers out there than builders. But then I noticed, it doesn’t say your builders “out_number_” your destroyers. It says your builders “out_do_” your destroyers. So while the thoughtless and malicious leave desolation in their wake, the wise and gentle can pick up the pieces, speaking words of healing, refreshment, “good for building up … (ministering) grace unto the hearers.” “Slowly but surely mending, brick by brick, heart by heart,” composed Stephen Schwartz.
“Praise everybody,” advised William Makepeace Thackeray. “Never be squeamish, but speak out your compliments both pointblank in a man’s face and behind his back. … Never lose a chance of saying a kind word.” Thus, I determined to outdo that third grade teacher. To her peers and church youth leaders, to social workers and therapists, and pointblank in her face, I praised our girl’s efforts and mastery in math.
“You caught on to that concept so quickly!”
“Look how much faster you did those flashcards!”
“Wow! An ‘A’ in math! You worked hard for that!”
“What’s good in your life?” the judge asked her.
“School,” she answered.
“What’s good about school?”
“Math!” she exclaimed, flashing me a sideways glance, a bright smile.1 comment on this story
Pierced. Crushed. Destroyed. The imagery is arresting — the generally unconsidered consequences of the bully’s mocking, the leader’s divisive rhetoric, that critical voice in our own minds. And most of those suffering, like our girl, choose not to show it. But there is power in kindness. Befriend the friendless, reach out to those who are different, compliment the striving, forgive the offender, encourage the disheartened.
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones … compassionate hearts, kindness. Let your speech always be gracious. Encourage one another and build one another up,” writes the ancient apostle. Outdo the destroyers.