My four-year-old granddaughter hesitated before entering the automatic revolving doors at a city hotel.
Anxious to empathize with her, I said, "I hate these doors!"
"Whoops!" she said. "You used a square word."
Wrestling to conceal my amusement at her malapropism, I apologized for having used a "swear" word and broken one of her mother's strictest rules.
And I reminded myself that words - used or not used - convey underlying attitudes.
Even my granddaughter knows that "square" words have sharp-pointed edges. And they come in at least three flavors: Poorly chosen - thoughtless, impetuous, uncaring. Poorly spoken - with an edge in the voice. And non-existent - the silent treatment.
The Apostle Paul put it in a nutshell: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Eph. 4:29).
Hating doors can't be that bad, you may be thinking. But maybe the emotion transfers too easily to people, even if it's not blatant. I recall my mother saying something like this: "When you fail to love another person, or ignore them, it can come uncomfortably close to hating them. Love and hate may not quite be opposites, but I think love and indifference are."
She made us look for constructive ways to reach people who are crying out for connection - desperate to be noticed. Now is always the best moment, she'd say, to recognize other people, to talk with them, initiate smiles, reach out a helping hand.
At the same hotel where I had used the "square" word, I found myself looking askance at a gray-haired woman who frowned at me as I swam laps in the pool. She also looked disapprovingly at the children splashing in the shallow end, and maintained a thundercloud expression for at least half an hour.
Although I certainly didn't hate her, I sought refuge for my unease in indifference. The silent treatment. I pretended she wasn't there, and dug a little deeper into the water.
Ten minutes later, I heaved myself into the hot whirlpool and tossed off a chirpy "How are you?" before I realized, to my dismay, that much of the space in that pool was occupied by the "thundercloud" - still glowering. I forced a smile and closed my eyes.
At that moment, I could almost hear my mother reminding me of the conscious effort required every moment of every day to see people as our brothers and sisters.
Right there in the whirlpool, I prayed for a deeper understanding that God is Love, and that as His expression, I am able to love all others effortlessly. The more I love, the less room there is for anything less than love to enter my life, and the sooner every shard of indifference disappears.
Within moments, a voice said quietly, "Not many here today." The "cloud" had actually spoken to me.
Time to care. Time to listen. In the next 15 minutes, I learned that she had been born in India, brought up in the United States, and had children and grandchildren (whom she really missed) living in Israel. She just had to share her desperation. To converse with someone. To have someone take an interest in her.
Within minutes we were friends. Her frown gave way to a shy smile. She was animated. Grateful.
Grace speaks in unpredictable ways. And never in "square" words.
Let your conversation
be always full of grace,
seasoned with salt, so that
you may know how to
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society