One afternoon, I loaned my label maker to my young friend Samuel, so that he could complete a project. That done, he proceeded, with youthful enthusiasm, to label everything in sight! He was having so much fun that he didn’t notice me turning it into a spelling lesson. At one point, he looked up and asked me what my favourite word was. I hesitated — too many choices to pick just one!
“Mom’s favourite word is LOVE,” he said. “You must have one too.” Thus prompted, I came up with “SHARE.” “Why share?” he wondered. I explained that it described how my calling as a deacon led me to share the Gospel’s ‘good news’ with people, to find out the needs of people in our community, and to get people involved in trying to fill those needs. I said that we should all share our time and talents in God’s service as best we can. The label he made me is still sitting on my desk, where I will see it.
While I struggled with a topic for this piece, my eyes landed on Samuel’s label lying there where I had left it. With the exception of phone calls and offering prayers at our online services, my usual diaconal activities have sat on the shelf with the label. What could I write about that had not already been said? I thought about words and about how very critical they are in relationships. The one thing we miss most in pandemic season is people! Connections with our families and friends are crucial to staying healthy in mind and spirit until the end of this isolation.
Words are important in keeping up our connections, our relationships. They can support, uplift and educate. Their power is made clear in the words of Scripture. As deacons, we share those sacred words to the scattered people we meet in our several ministries.
As COVID-19 fatigue deepens, we are learning that words can often hurt more easily than they help. Social media has kept us together in some respects, but it is also a bad influence. Think of tweets that offer racist or bigoted opinions. How quickly do ‘vultures’ chime in to demean someone’s opinion? How quickly does the civil level of language deteriorate? Words that berate and attack break down relationships. Left unchecked, these words decrease our willingness to care about our neighbours. Many readers become discouraged and depressed. It seems to be so much easier to disagree and get angry than it is to say something nice.
Social media has a place, and there have been many examples of “Love your Neighbour” – people in the community helping others because they can.
In our community, a young woman asked a simple question on a popular Facebook group – “since seniors cannot see their family this Christmas, or might not even have family, is there a resident in the local retirement home who might appreciate a gift? How do I find out?” That was Monday.
Within a few days, she created a “Play Santa for a Senior” group. People stepped up with links and suggestions. Connections were made. Word spread. A gift list was arrived at and volunteers came out of the woodwork. One local store offered space as a drop off centre. Another offered storage and sorting space. In two weeks, some 275 donors contributed about 500 gifts for residents of retirement homes, long term care facilities, community living centres and people in the town who were nominated by a neighbour or friend.
On the night before the drop-off deadline, it appeared that there was a shortage of presents. Within two hours, there were pledges and e-transfers of about $2,000 to make up the difference. The smiles on the faces of the people – moms, their kids, neighbours – who sorted the gifts and delivered them were bright and glowing with hope and love. Residents of half a dozen or more institutions had equally bright smiles on Christmas Day. It was a great display of ‘Love your neighbour”.
Words have power. The wisdom of the Bible gives us the words to make a difference every day. When we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we show his love for others and we bring them hope.
May our words always be gentle and sweet, for we may never know how much they will mean to someone who needs to hear them.
Nancy has served as a deacon at St Paul’s Anglican Church in Caledonia since 2015.