Bother to say it



July 27, 2012, 9:29 AM

I have never been a talker. I am like the man in the psychiatrist’s office whose wife complains that he hasn’t said “I love you” in years, and he says in his defense, “I told you I loved you on our wedding day, and if I change my mind I’ll let you know.”

I have always found much of the communication that I hear between people … unnecessary. This taciturn trait has come partly from laziness and partly from something more profound: the unexamined notion that words don’t matter much, don’t effect change.

I was interested to hear an interview of former serial killer David Berkowitz—now a Christian and joyful mentor of men in a New York prison—in which he was asked if he had advice for parents. He replied (not at all excusing his crimes) that when he was growing up, he never told his mom and dad he loved them, and they never said it to him, either. He told the interviewer he assumes they did love him, but that it would have been good to hear it.

As I now look back on my first marriage and my child-raising, I am often appalled—so many things I never said. Not only the words “I love you” but its splendid variations, like: “I enjoy spending afternoons with you at the playground,” “I like the way your mind works,” “I notice that you are loyal to your friends and that’s a good quality,” “You have a real gift in drawing.”

I didn’t say the hard things I should have said, either. I wish I had taken the trouble to pull my daughter aside when she was unkind for years to her younger brother and say, “Daughter, let me tell you as someone older than you that someday you will be sorry if you continue to treat your brother like this. There will come a day when you will see him differently and you will want a relationship with him, and then you will regret this. Please think about this and be good to him now while it is today.”

My attitude was that “kids will be kids” and she would outgrow it. Sure enough, she grew up to repine of her childhood ways—and the blame is laid at my doorstep as well as hers, for guarding my silence.

Recently I was standing in line to sign an attendance book at a wedding reception and making small talk with the woman behind me. When I asked about her children, she mentioned that her 20-something son is living with his girlfriend. We both sighed, and she said that her kids are grown now so it is out of her hands. I thought she would leave the subject at that, but then she added, “But I still speak the truth into his life when the opportunity arises.”

That was a confirmation of one of the most important things I am learning from my husband: It is always important to speak truth into our children’s lives, and not to grow weary or lazy in doing so. This is because the truth has its own power, having to do with God being Truth itself, and operating in truth, and Jesus being the Word. There is more afoot than we realize when we bother to speak a true word. Even if your child shows no reaction to your words of truth at the moment, she has heard them, and they are in there somewhere.

This is the way conscience works, by the way. A word of truth informs the conscience and renders it fully aware and therefore inexcusable the next time the sinful action is committed. Maybe the first time your child did something rude to his sibling, he did it with only an inchoate apprehension. Once the words of truth have been spoken to his ears, if he repeats the offense on another occasion he will do so with full awareness and not with vagueness of understanding. Or perhaps, Lord willing, he will stop and refrain.

Bother to speak the truth you think obvious.