This weekend I led a youth retreat for a team made up of young people from the U.S. and the Caribbean. We had an awesome time, focusing on the theme: Carve your mark. Aerial obstacle courses taught them to face their fears, cling to God’s Word, and keep moving forward no matter what. Zip lines taught them to take leaps of faith. Spray paint and sheetrock illuminated lessons about purity and the impact of our decisions. But I too learned a lesson this weekend. This post identifies three ways that words can heal you.
Two kids with us lost their beloved 38 year old father to cancer just a few weeks ago. Their grief and shock was palpable. But as we talked, engaged in activities, and taught the value of leading a purposeful life, I saw smiles come on their faces. I heard laughter and felt them opening up to the truth that life is still good, even though it’s often marred by tragedy.
Here are three ways words brought healing to these teens. As you read, I pray that they’ll bring healing to you as well.
Three ways words can heal you
Words identify inescapable realities
We only have a limited amount of days to make our life count. That’s an inescapable reality that I laid out to our group. Therefore, it’s up to us to ensure those days are well spent. Those words set the parameters for our teens.
While at first glance these words may not seem to be conducive to healing, the truth is that confronting reality, and accepting what we cannot change, is a key part of finding peace.
Words can force us to confront things we may otherwise deny. In my current work in progress, Behind These Walls of Glass, words force my protagonist to confront her own self-view in a bid to combat Nazism. While it may be difficult, facing issues allow us to move forward.
The scriptures admonish us to “Speak the truth in love,” in order to reach our full potential in Christ. While we may be tempted to focus on the final words in that phrase, I’d like to point out that it is the spoken truth—harsh, raw, and cutting—that sets the stage for personal and spiritual growth. This would be the first of three ways that words can heal.
For the kids, losing their dad was an unchangeable reality. They had to accept it. But recognizing that his life, like their own, is temporal helped them realize they must make each moment count—just like their father did.
So, when you’re hurting and wish to escape the inevitabilities of your situation, remember that accepting your realities may just be the first step toward overcoming whatever’s standing in your way.
WOrds remind us of our potential
I was probably about thirty feet off the ground while carefully picking my way along a section of wall that was suspended between to posts when I looked back to check on Cathy*. She was stuck in the middle of a series of suspended pieces of wood, bound together in the shape of Xs. With each step they moved. The poor kid was absolutely terrified.
“You can do it, Cathy!” I yelled over. But that didn’t seem to help much. She couldn’t get off the aerial obstacle course. Nor could she go back. And she was holding up traffic.
But within a few minutes a guide got on the course at the other end of the segment. He didn’t just tell Cathy she could do it. Instead, he showed her where to put her feet, motioning and encouraging her to keep moving forward.
Cathy had lost her dad but she found courage on Saturday. So much courage that didn’t just complete that section, but the entire obstacle course, guided by this man who told her where to place her feet. Afterward, she testified that she learned not to let fear stop her from doing great things.
Words were at the heart of it all
When I think back at that experience, I realize that words were at the heart of it all. By following guided instructions, what seemed impossible was broken down into manageable chunks. As Cathy accomplished each segment, she realized she was could actually do more than she thought. Her fear was overcome by taking the guide’s words instead of her own fearful remarks.
When we’re in need of emotional, spiritual or physical healing, it’s so important to embrace those healing thoughts of Almighty God as expressed in His word instead of the pain and fear that seem insurmountable. He says,
Fear not, for I am with you;Isaiah 41:10
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
That’s the second of three ways words can heal—by reminding us of the potential God has given us. It’s critical to realize that this verse isn’t just self-empowering statements. Frankly, there’s nothing about them that places confidence in human ability. The emphasis is all on God. It is His presence that gives us no reason for fear. He is the reason we can find strength and be preserved in terrible circumstances.
It was only because of the guide’s presence that Cathy was able to overcome her fear. Her potential was only shown because he was there. But when we step forward, trusting in His Word, we find the ability to do more than we ever thought possible.
They offer the hope of a better tomorrow
As some of you know, French is my other language. In French we have two words that we use to describe hope: l’espoir and l’espérance. L’espoir is more like hope in the sense of a wish. For example, the hope that a million people will million to Ukraine Relief in the next three hours. It’s possible. But they may not. There’s no solid reason to think a million people will donate.
L’espérance by contrast is more solid. It’s hope in the sense of an expectation because there’s a reason to believe that something will happen. That reason can be faith or something visible. Christianity Today recently published this encouraging article by Syntyche D. Dahou that builds upon this premise in light of the pandemic.
Bringing hope is the final of three ways that words can heal. God’s promises are swathed in espérance, urging us to push past the pain of today with the expectation, or certain hope, of a better tomorrow. Paul the Apostle writes of this truth when he says,
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.Romans 8:25 KJV
Three ways words can heal you
Three ways words can heal are by making us face things we might prefer to avoid, reminding us of our potential, and offering hope for tomorrow.
By the end of our retreat we were all tired but refreshed in our minds and hearts. I hope the words shared and lessons taught will remain with these young people for a long time. But out of it all, I know that two kids who’ll go home a little stronger… and a little closer to healing.
*Name changed for privacy purposes.
What about you?
How have words helped you find healing? Write in and let me know.