Recently (no doubt while looking for something else) I ran across a book I had forgotten I owned, “Silver Boxes” by Florence Littauer. I reread it with a highlighter and found a lot of inspiration I am willing to share.
She introduces her topic by citing a Bible verse she and her husband encouraged their children to memorize: Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” This Scripture text figured so largely in family conversations that whenever a family member said something sarcastic or hurtful, someone else would ask, “Was that edifying?”
Once when Littauer was invited to lead a workshop in a church, the pastor with no warning called on her to do the children’s sermon. Somewhat taken aback, she resorted to the verse from Ephesians she had so carefully instilled in her own children. She helped the children understand each of the rather lengthy words and puzzling phrases.
When it came to the final “minister grace,” she guided them to the conclusion that to minister is to serve or give to others and that grace is a gift that is not necessarily deserved. At this point a little girl bounced up, faced the congregation and said, “What she means is that our words should be like little silver boxes with bows on top.”
Littauer took the child’s idea and ran with it, frequently speaking on the silver box theme and finally writing the book. She emphasizes the tremendous impact our words can have on others, either positively or negatively. She offers examples of people who failed to reach their potential, because a parent or teacher or other influential person gave them plenty of criticism, but no praise.
She points to people who have achieved good things, because somebody encouraged them.
You can probably look back on your own life and remember examples of both the positive and negative power of words on your life and work. Some of my teachers used to suggest that I should lip sync while the other students sang in a program, because I was so often off-key. Although I admit that native talent or lack thereof is no doubt a factor, these words from teachers may be one reason I write, but don’t sing.
There is some wisdom in the old cliche, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything.” Granted that people sometimes need a few words of correction, often harping on a person’s (especially a child’s) shortcomings can make him/her despair of doing any better. Finding something to praise can cause someone to strive to deserve that praise.
There is even a self-serving reason for talk which is “edifying” and “ministers grace.” People will love you for it. I remember a neighbor from my childhood who almost always greeted you with the words, “You look so nice.”
Oddly enough, when Mrs. Henderson said those words, they did not seem like insincere flattery; I guess everyone always looked nice to her.
One of the most amusing instances of her greeting was when the community had a tacky party at Halloween, and she told my mother, “Maggie, you think you are tacky, but you really look nice.” Mom had thrown my child’s coat around her shoulders and pinned it together in front with a horse-blanket pin. Since the coat was bright green instead of Mom’s usual dark or neutral colors, I could see why Mrs. Henderson thought it was becoming.
The last time I saw Mrs. Henderson, she was in the hospital near death. Although she barely had strength to whisper, when I walked up to her bedside and said hello, she smiled and said, “You look so nice.”
Littauer ends each chapter of her book with a Bible verse, often from Proverbs. Here are a couple I highlighted, which I hope will encourage you as you form a habit of handing out “silver boxes” to friends and perhaps even foes.
“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (Proverbs 12:25). And “A word spoken in due season, how good it is” (Proverbs 15:23).