I caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye as I made my way through the crowd milling about in the children’s Sunday school pickup area. She beelined toward me, auburn ponytail bobbing behind her, a bright smile on her face. It was the 11-year old daughter of a friend, who had previously informed me proudly that she was working on a book, and would love to show it to me sometime. Of course, I had told her, I would love to see her story.
“Hello, author!” she chirped.
Without thinking, I blurted the first reply that popped into my head.
“Hello, future author!”
Her face lit up and she crossed in front of me, on her way to a table in the back of the room where she sat with a notebook and pen, jotting down her thoughts as they came to her.
I smile as I remember this encounter even now, weeks later.
It’s reminiscent of an experience I had as a high schooler. I attended a tiny – microscopic by neighboring schools’ standards – Christian school in Florida my final two years of high school, where there was a particular emphasis on what is often referred to as “spiritual formation.” Both years, the entire high school student body attended spiritual retreats, experiences which were some of the most formative of my young spiritual walk. After one such retreat, when I’d made a milestone-type commitment to live out the faith of my beliefs in a more holistic way, I was back at school, trudging to class when the voice of the pastor’s wife – one of the leaders of our retreat – rang out from behind me.
“There goes a man of God!” she called to me.
I imagine my reaction was similar to that of the girl I mentioned earlier: surprise, then disbelief, but then, as the words sank deeper and I spent some time living with the epithet, a third stage in the process.
I began to believe them.
As the days spun into weeks, months, and years, and I trundled off to a high-pressure Christian college, where my beliefs and my commitments were tested in fresh ways, I clung to those words, remembering them, finding ways to remind myself of them when I felt decidedly like anything but a man of God. Even now, I remember those words. They’re a label I hope to live up to.
These are words of life.
And I’ve come to believe quite profoundly in the importance of speaking these sorts of prophetic words of life over the lives of people that we love, especially those whose care we are entrusted with, my children especially.
These words of life are like a garment we’re given, something valuable and precious, but possibly too big at first. It sags off the shoulders, droops at the cuffs. It seems like it was meant for someone else to wear, someone more worthy of its value and style. But almost instantly after seeing it, we want to wear it. We believe ourselves worthy of it because it’s been given to us. And so we make sacrifices, certain decisions, in order to make the garment fit us.
So can our words take new life as they’re planted deep in the fertile ground of our children’s holy imagination. These words of life can shape the people they are becoming and guide them to the people our Father dreams of them being. When they strive, these words can give their efforts verve. When they fail, these words can pick them back up. If life is a process of becoming, these words of life can show a destination to guide them.
As Emily Dickinson put it, “A word is dead/When it is said/Some say/I say it just/Begins to live/That day.”
These words of life are the reminders of the people we really are, the way we’ve been created. We pray for the eyes of faith to see these qualities in our children, then for the courage to speak them timely and wisely to our children. And it takes faith to believe that the words will live on beyond their speaking. But they do. And they will.