Having had lifelong recurring bouts of “foot-in-mouth” disease, I have come to appreciate words and the way we use them. It is amazing how we may think we are communicating clearly, only to be misunderstood. Because we have in our minds a picture of what we mean or what we are trying to communicate, it can sometimes be frustrating to feel as though we are speaking Japanese to someone who only understands German.
Bruised feelings can lead to bruised and ailing relationships if we do not work to mend them, and improve in our language of love.
There are books and programs that focus on the differences in the way men and women hear one another, parents and children communication variances, faith or political diversities, and any other manner of communication barriers.
My primary language is English. This language is an interesting one, and a difficult one for many to learn. In great part, this is due to the multiple meanings of our words, or the colorful ways that certain items are named. Is it any wonder that we may sometimes get confused, when our language is dotted with such words as the ones described in the great little poem below?
“Have You Ever Seen?”
Have you ever seen a sheet on a river bed?
Or a single hair from a hammer’s head?
Has the foot of a mountain any toes?
And is there a pair of garden hose?
Does the needle ever wink its eye?
Why doesn’t the wing of a building fly?
Can you tickle the ribs of a parasol?
Or open the trunk of a tree at all?
Are the teeth of a rake ever going to bite?
Have the hands of a clock any left or right?
Can the garden plot be deep and dark?
And what is the sound of the birch’s bark?
As a newly baptized Latter-day Saint teenager, I was confused at such terms as “fireside,” “stake center,” “wards,” and “family home evening.” These and so many other words made me feel uncomfortable at first.
I did not know how to properly pronounce all the names in the Book of Mormon, and much of the culture of the Church was new to me. Yet, a constant of my attendance at any Church meeting was this: There was a clear language of love. There were ward members who made it a point to make me feel welcome and wanted, offering kind and encouraging words.
I will forever be grateful to a good man named Brother Norris — a man who was always around whenever there were youth activities, and whom I later realized was the ward Young Men president — for being a master at the language of love. He made a difference in my life because his words indicated that he truly cared about me and loved me.
In very fact, his actions bore out that language he spoke. His smile was genuine, the handshake was real and warm, the attitude of caring offered a security to a young girl who had been searching for the truth.
Further, the kids I met and hung out with were “good kids” who were generally respectful and careful with their words. I had a lot of learning ahead of me, and a great deal of experience to gain in the beautiful language of the gospel.
It has, thus far, been a great journey. Still, all these years later, I have to confess that some days I feel like those who drive faster than me are maniacs, and those who drive slower than me are morons. Sometimes I speak before I think, and sometimes what I mean is not what comes out of my mouth.
But I understand that as long as I am on the path of truth and working at the language of love, I am okay. The language of love is shared between me and my husband on the most sweet and intimate, companionship level. We can talk about any and everything. That includes digging through a miscommunication or wrongful translation between us.
The language of love flows from us to the children, and between them. No — not all the time! But they show their love by checking up on one another, offering encouraging words, sharing feelings, expressing love. It is fun to learn more about, and practice the language of love, and to notice others practicing as well.
That love language is shared when we say a kind word to a neighbor or someone with whom we are standing in line. If we occasionally put that foot firmly in our mouths, we can use words to ask forgiveness or clear up a miscommunication, and enjoy (hopefully) the blessing of being forgiven for our offense or lack of thought. It allows us to ponder over what we said and determine to do better. It may cause us to more carefully ponder over the words that come out of our mouths.
Five practical thoughts that come to mind for anyone wishing to increase the language of love are listed below:
- The old advice to count to ten instead of saying something that would offend man or God is still great advice. The crudity of today’s speech makes for a different world. Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke to the lowering of standards for speech when he said, “The nature and extent of profanity and vulgarity in our society is a measure of its deterioration.” ( Ensign , May 1986, p. 49.)
- Give thanks for the blessing of being able to use language. Words and body language are the powerful tools we have for communicating with one another. It is a sweet blessing to say something kind to another person. “Thank you,” “Please,” “I love you,” “I am sorry,” “I will pray for you” — these are but a few wonderful words full of power. Follow President Thomas S. Monson’s advice to “Think to thank.” Happiness comes from being a more thankful person. Including the blessing of language in our prayers of gratitude may just keep us more mindful of the language we use!
- Learn to use words so that they do not use us. As we master ourselves and grow in goodness, the language of love would filter out the darker and baser choice of words. Elder Ted E. Brewerton once taught that, “If we are not most careful with our thoughts and speech, the words we use will use us. Language has its own ethics, and one who communicates truth is like a bright light in the darkness.
” ( Ensign , May 1983, p. 73.)
- Our ability to better use language to build and lift as we better communicate grows as we learn more about our accountability. The Savior has warned, “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). Clearly, there is consequence for our choice of words just as there is consequence for our choice of actions.
- Forgive. Forgiving ourselves when we goof is a good way to take a deep cleansing breath and do better next time. Forgiving those who speak harshly to us is refreshing and strengthening to our relationships.
Being human, we will goof from time to time. Our word choice may not be as concise as we would desire. Our ability to always communicate smoothly and without incident may be unrealistic, but it seems a long-range goal worth working on.
Thinking a moment before opening our mouths, giving thanks for the blessing of being able to speak, using words more masterfully, having forgiveness in our hearts, and understanding that we answer for the words we use can set our course.
Being more confident and masterful in our words, we are freer to show love. Not everyone, perhaps, can be a Brother Norris, but we can reach out in kindness and goodness to those with whom we spend our time — family, ward, work, or whatever. There is more room for joy as we joyfully spread the goodness. It makes a difference!
Imperfections, bloopers, misgivings, and all — we will grow in the language of love!