Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 6, 2016


The remarkable power of encouraging words


Words have enormous power. Critical words can destroy our hope. Encouraging words can energize us to succeed. History is filled with proof of this premise.  

Benjamin West was an incredibly gifted painted. Born in Springfield, Pennsylvania in 1738, West had little formal education and could hardly spell but he could paint remarkable portraits. He became a close friend of Benjamin Franklin and painted Franklin’s portrait.

West loved to tell the story of his first attempt to paint. One day when he was a young boy, and his mother was not home, he decided he would paint a picture of his sister. Soon, working with bottles of ink and paper, he had made what he described as “an awful mess.”   

      When his mother returned and saw the mess her son had made, she was very wise. She chose not to scold the boy. Instead she picked up the poor painting, studied it for a moment, and said to Benjamin, “What a beautiful picture of your sister!” Then, cupping his face in her hands, she kissed him. Years later, whenever Benjamin West told that story, he always said, “With that kiss I became a painter.”

      I hate stories like that. They remind me of the many times I blew it as a father. Viewing the mess one of my sons had made, I would so often say with a frown on my face, “Look what a mess you have made!” West’s story reminds me of opportunities I had to offer words of affirmation rather than criticism.  

History books are full of inspiring stories, such as one about American author Nathaniel Hawthorne.  After losing his job working for the government in the customs house, Hawthorne went home in despair. Full of self-pity, he moaned and groaned to his wife about how he had been mistreated. After listening patiently for a while, his wife got up, found a pen and ink, put it on the table and lit a fire. Then, putting her arms around her husband’s shoulders, she said firmly, “Now you can write your novel!”

Hawthorne was so inspired by his wife’s encouragement that he did just that. Soon the world was blessed by the novel he titled The Scarlet Letter, a book of fiction that remains an American classic.

When I first read this story about Hawthorne, I thought, “Hey, I am married to a woman like Nathaniel’s wife!” And I am! Repeatedly, when I have succumbed to despair, instead of criticizing me she has said firmly, “Get up big boy; pick up the pieces and let’s get moving!” Like Hawthorne’s wife she has refused to let me grovel in gloom and defeat. And like Hawthorne, I am a blessed man because of her choice of words.

Positive words help people. Negative words can destroy people. Think about what it means to you to be around people who know how and when to pat you on the back and say “Well done!” And consider how little it has helped you to be around people who are constantly saying, “You could have done better!”

      Speaking to a large group of prison inmates, Evangelist Bill Glass asked, “How many of you had parents who told you that you would end up in prison one day?” Almost every hand went up. Negative words have devastating influence. A friend of mine is still haunted by the chilling, angry words his father said to him many times, “You will never amount to anything!”

      The next time you are tempted to complain about the mess someone has made, count to ten before you speak and try to remember the remarkable power of encouraging words. You may do more than make someone’s day; you may make someone’s life. + + +