Several years ago (don't ask how many) our daughter Elizabeth came home with an interesting piece of kindergarten art. It was an illustrated depiction of the seven most important words in the English language. Somewhere in our storage building this five year-old's drawing is preserved for generations to come. The seven words were---
I'm sorry. Forgive me. I love you.
My geezer mind doesn't remember anything beyond the seven words. But, these seven words have flashed across the screen in my head often over the years. It's one of those good/bad realities that litter life along the way---the good that I remembered them, the bad that I had to use them on so many occasions.
Up front they reminded me of the power of words. With the gift of gab and a pulpit calling requiring the use of many words this truth often slips to the edges of life. We are certainly people of words. The Oxford Dictionary indicates there are 171,476 active English words, along with around 47,000 that are obsolete. Further study indicates that women speak around 20,000 words every day while the male of our species speak only around 7,000 words daily. Go figure! Even in early age though, we learn quickly both the destructive use of our words and those that are healing in nature. How we speak and the words at our disposal was a theme wise Solomon wrote into his Proverbs many times. He knew the strength of words to build up and their destructive power when used maliciously. Examples---
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15: 1, ESV
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
Proverbs 15:4, ESV
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
Proverbs 16:24, ESV
The words of a man's mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling
Proverbs 18:4, ESV
From the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his
Proverbs 18:20, ESV
There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious
Proverbs 20:15, ESV
A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a
Proverbs 25:18, ESV
And, of course, there are many others in the Proverbs and in the New Testament as well. They all remind me of the need for maturity and wisdom when I open my mouth, which is often.
That is why Elizabeth's kindergarten artwork resonated with me so deeply. Her seven words were ones I love to hear in the relational elements of life. Perhaps our greatest blessings and hardships are those that touch the people who are so dear to us. There's little argument that our personal relationships are among our most cherished treasures. To hear those seven words from others is a healing spring when those relationships take a downward turn. Even more, however, is the restorative power of those seven words when I speak them to others.
We humans are a little slow in admitting wrong. To tell someone "I'm sorry" is an elixir when relationships are endangered. To speak those words to another is to shoulder blame about a wrong committed. When spoken you can see the relief in the eyes of your cherished friend, family member, or colleague. Even more, when I have spoken them they have eased the pain of wrong in my own heart. It's very true that when I wrong another person it's me who has actually tasted the bitter poison of my words. "I'm sorry" is a blessing that begins the process of making my heart right.
Through Elizabeth's kindergarten artistry I learned another valuable lesson about the power of words. As children we had been taught the value of seeking right when our words or actions had negatively harmed someone close to us. Usually we sought to cover those inappropriate occasions with an apology. Later in life I learned the value of authenticating that apology with a plea for forgiveness. Saying "forgive me" solidified my ownership of my harsh behavior and sought their forgiveness for my wrong. It's amazing how a simple phrase like "forgive me" can shift the emotions of a personal confrontation or harsh moment.
"I love you" communicates a personal bond when genuinely felt and openly expressed. Who doesn't inflate when hearing these intimate words. When Elizabeth showed us her expression of these seven words, the 1971 Otis Skillings song came immediately to mind---"We are one in the bond of love". That phrasing "...we have joined our spirit with the Spirit of God, we are one in the bond of love" seemed a thrilling remembrance of the precious blessing of relationships and the people who so enrich our lives.
Seven words---I'm sorry. Forgive me. I love you---words that can restore the joys of our relationship with others and keep our own hearts refreshed.