Each week for one hour I mentor a second grade student as part of our church’s Kids Hope USA program. Let’s call him Jay (not his real name). Jay is very challenging. He is not motivated to learn, struggles academically, has behavior problems, and doesn’t get much support at home.
This past Tuesday as he was being his usual petulant self about the work he had been assigned for our time to together I said to him, “You’re smart! I know you can do this work.” His response was startling. “No one ever told me that before; that I’m smart.” Think about that for a moment. NO ONE, NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON in Jay’s nine years on this earth, had told him that he was smart. No wonder he had no interest in doing his school work. He assumed he would fail because the messages he has been receiving throughout his life have pretty much guaranteed that he would. Maybe that explains the response I got once when I asked him what he wants to be when he grows up. “I don’t know, I’ll probably live on the street.” What kid says that?! You can bet your bottom dollar that from now on every time I see Jay I’m going to remind him that he is smart, that he can succeed if he sets his mind to it, and that he has value.
I wonder how many people (kids and adults) travel through life not hearing the things they need to hear from the people who matter most. How many never hear the words “I love you.” Or, “Great job!” Or, “I’m proud of you!” Or, “You are important to me.” Or, “You can be anything you want to be.” Or, “Thank you!” Or, “Keep going, you’ll get there.” Or, “I forgive you.” Or, “You are special.” I’m afraid the number may be disturbingly high.
Each one of us has an opportunity each and every day to lift someone up. The thing is, we don’t know what kind of impact we may have on another person simply by sharing a word of encouragement. It may be the very first time someone has heard it. Our words have power and, in and of themselves, can be powerFUL. That is, they can impact a person’s life far beyond what we might see at the moment.
What might happen if we made a habit of encouraging at least one person every day? It could be a child, a co-worker, a friend, a parent or grandparent. It could even be someone we don’t know like the cashier at the grocery store, the mail carrier, the restaurant server, the janitor, the cafeteria worker, and the list goes on. What if we assumed that the person standing in front of us at any given moment has never heard a word of hope or love or mercy or acceptance? And what if we took it upon ourselves to change that?
Maybe we could make the world a better place, or at least smarter.