The year was 1990.
The mighty Soviet Empire, the great stronghold of communism and the world’s capital of terror, was shaken to its foundations. The winds of freedom had broken through the impenetrable wall of atheism and dictatorship, and for the first time in 73 years, Soviet people were free to think for themselves and to believe as they chose.
On this particular Tuesday, my mom and I (a 14-year old teenager then) found ourselves sitting at a church service listening to guests from the United States.
Even a year ago this would have been an unimaginable situation. Attending church had been a punishable crime and Christian workers from the West were prohibited from entering the USSR.
You can rightfully say that we were witnessing a miracle. Better yet, we were living in a miracle.
That night, something incredible happened.
I watched an American missionary speak through a translator for the very first time. The process was fascinating to me.
The missionary would open his mouth and speak, what sounded to my ears, like complete jibberish. Then the translator would open his mouth and everything would suddenly become clear.
I remember feeling like I was at a magic show. Every phrase that the translator said was like a rabbit that he pulled out of his hat.
As I was enjoying this amazing display, my mother leaned toward me and whispered,
“One day YOU will be doing this. You will be translating.”
Those words could not have been more ridiculous. At that point I had been taking English at school (I had no choice) and I was at the bottom of my class. Nothing about the language made any sense to me and I couldn’t wait to be done with the class altogether.
Somehow, though, my mother’s words found their way deep into my heart and nestled there.
I can’t remember any of the songs we sang that night or anything that the preacher preached, but I vividly remember my mother’s words,
“YOU. WILL. BE. TRANSLATING.”
It was as if God Himself spoke to me that night.
I remember exactly what day of the week it was; I remember the exact spot where we sat at church; and boy, do I remember how I felt that night—limitless. My universe had just tripled in size!
My mom’s words painted a bold and beautiful picture of what my future could look like.
She gave me a vision of who I could become.
I am so glad that she didn’t focus on who I was at that time. I am glad that she didn’t define me by my terrible language skills and low grades. She looked beyond all of that AND believed in me.
That night I borrowed her faith and dared to believe that one day I would stand on a stage listening to an English speaker and translating their speech into Russian.
Two years later the words my mom spoke became a reality.
At the age of 17, I stood in front of 300 people in a high school auditorium and translated for a group of American missionaries.
Of course, I didn't know English immediately after my mom spoke that phrase. I had to spend many, many hours learning it and practicing, but on that night something shifted inside of me. Her words opened the door to a beautiful possibility and gave me the courage to take the very first step.
Since then I have translated and published numerous English books, visited several English speaking countries and most importantly, asked an American girl to marry me (she said, "yes").
I wonder, though, if any of this would have happened if my mother had not whispered the words that gave me the passion and strength to break through my limitations and dream of something bigger.
As parents (I believe this applies to pastors, teachers and coaches as well) we hold the keys to our children’s future. These keys are the words we speak to them. With our words we can either empower our children or deflate them.
Many of us are doing a good job at praising our children for their noticeable accomplishments...those things that the whole world sees in them. This is good and necessary; but let’s not stop there. Let’s use the power of our words to inspire them to see beyond their limitations in order that they might have the courage and will to overcome them.
Seven months ago, my second son, Miles Reid, made his grand entrance into this world. After my wife and I announced his birth and posted his first photograph on Facebook, we received a myriad of warm congratulations, each one proving the fact that it is in our nature to ascribe worth to others.
Here is a small sampling of the Facebook comments:
· Aw, he’s precious!!!
· Awe.... He is perfect!
· Absolutely precious!
· He is adorable!
· What another precious gift from God for your family!
I am not sharing these to brag on my son (although he is pretty amazing), but to point out how natural it is for us to celebrate another human being and the beauty and worth we see in them.
Just think of it... so far Miles hasn’t accomplished anything spectacular. His daily routine is quite predictable: he eats, sleeps, wets his diapers and deprives his parents of sleep, yet it doesn’t really matter. We value him, not because of what he does or doesn’t do, but because of who he is.
Tragically, as time goes on, we often begin to forget the language of celebration.
It’s only natural to get used to the immense worth we once saw in our children. Where once we saw beauty and wonder, we now see ordinary humanness.
Once we lose sight of the treasure inside our children, we shift our attention from their being onto their doing (behavior). As a result, the flow of joyful celebration dries up. Now our acceptance and affirmation of them has strings attached. “I love you as long as you...” (we might not say that..but that’s how we often act). How sad!
Eventually it becomes easy for us to focus on what is wrong with our children—their failures, shortcomings and weaknesses—and try to fix them.
Imagine with me, though, what we could accomplish if we stopped reminding children how bad they are and instead spoke to the greatness that God has placed in them, calling it to rise to the surface.
After all, isn’t this the way God deals with us? Just think of it…
When God looked at the old, childless Abram, He saw limitless possibilities. He started referring to old Abe as a “father of many nations,” and would often tell him about his future children whose number would exceed the stars in the sky and the sand on a seashore—and that’s when Abraham didn’t have any children at all. In fact, his wife was barren!!
When Jesus found frightened Gideon hiding at the bottom of the pit, He didn’t call him a coward, even though that’s what he was in that moment. Instead He called him a “mighty man of valor” and told him that he would lead his people to freedom. Gideon was convinced that God was talking to the wrong man.
Simon the fisherman was one of the most impulsive and unstable disciples on Jesus’ team. Yet Jesus looked beyond the surface and spoke to the treasure God deposited inside of Simon. That’s why He called him Peter (rock) and spoke to him about the high price of martyrdom that he would be able to pay because of his unwavering commitment to the Master.
When Paul the apostle felt it was necessary to write a disciplinary letter to the Christians in Corinth who were bringing shame to Christ’s name through their immoral, greedy and selfish lifestyle, he chose to address them as saints. He was well aware of their miserable failures and abominable actions, yet he didn’t let their shortcomings obscure that which was precious about them. He went on to address their misconduct; yet his starting point was to establish their identity, not according to what they were doing, but according to who they were (or probably more accurately, whose they were).
As parents, we can be inspired by these examples. It’s an amazing privilege and responsibility to be able to speak into our children’s lives more than anyone else in these early years.
Let’s not take it lightly!
We have the power to defeat them by constantly focusing on their limitations OR to call out the greatness that they probably don’t even realize is inside of them.
Let’s speak with power and faith into our children’s lives and watch God bring it to fruition!
I’ll leave you with these 12 phrases to help you open the life-giving flow (just in case your language of celebration is somewhat rusty):
1. I love you (and nothing you do or say will change that).
2. I’m proud of you.
3. You can do this. (You’ve got what it takes.)
4. I believe in you.
5. Wow! Will you show me how you did that?
6. You are a treasure in our family.
7. I love your idea (it has a lot of merit).
8. I love you exactly the way you are.
9. It’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes.
10. Spending time with you is one of my favorite things to do.
11. That’s interesting. (Great point!) I never thought of it that way.
12. I am so glad God gave you to me. (How did I get the best kid in the world?!)