"Hi, beautiful!" my new husband, Jerry, called from the back bedroom where he was making pottery. I'd just come home from my university classes.
"Hi," I mumbled, heading into the kitchen of our bungalow to cook dinner. My straight hair was pulled into a ponytail, and I wore my usual outfit of cut-off army fatigues and threadbare plaid shirt. Because my father had sexually abused me when I was young, I'd always felt ugly and dirty and tended to dress the part. But since Jerry and I had married a few months before, he routinely called me beautiful.
No other man has ever called me beautiful, I thought, grabbing a handful of spaghetti. Although I'd heard Jerry say those words before, for some reason, that day it felt as if God himself wrapped his arms around me, and my feeling of ugliness began to melt away.
As a psychotherapist, I've seen many people healed by the power of words. Sometimes those words are understanding; sometimes warm; sometimes forgiving (or seeking forgiveness); sometimes encouraging. Through our words, we can be the incarnation of Jesus to each other, just as Jerry was, and still is, to me. He saw God's beauty in me and spoke the healing words I needed to hear, setting me on a path to recovery and wholeness.
Here are some powerful ways our words work.
1. Provide a sense of belonging
Healing words draw us together. Many of us feel we don't belong, even if we look as if we've always fit with the "in" crowd. Janet married her husband when they were both in medical school. "When my husband first referred to me as his wife, and introduced me that way, I felt such a sense of belonging," she told me. "More than I'd ever felt in my primary family." Her story of healing words surprised me because she appears as though she has it all: a beautiful house, two wonderful children, a great husband, a professional career. But she, too, has been hurt by rejection in her childhood family.1