(Author’s Note: Whitney Houston died February 11, 2012. The following piece was written shortly thereafter.)
Whitney Houston’s dead? I stared at my computer screen in disbelief. Sorrow filled me, and I contemplated her strong influence on others.
Whitney Houston’s songs inspired many, including me. As an impressionable teenager in the 1980’s, I purchased her albums and sang along with her proudly. The message spurred me forward. Her solid voice incited a can-do attitude, a desire to drive on whatever the cost. Her stance and air of confidence provoked a spark of excitement, a motivation to be all I could be, to push myself and accomplish much. In short, her message empowered.
A generation of women listened to Whitney Houston’s songs and heard permission to reach for the unreachable and change the world by finding strength and love inside themselves. Houston desired to steer women toward something positive. Unfortunately, her message, while powerful and peppered with elements of truth, was misleading. It missed the mark regarding the source of true love and strength, as evidenced by her lifestyle.
Influence through Empowerment
Now, decades later, I aspire to empower others, especially my teenage children. But I don’t want my message to fall short. While attending college, I found the true source of love and strength, not in myself, but in Jesus Christ. It’s that message I hope to pass along.
Most women yearn to make a difference. And we do—probably more often than we comprehend. We don’t need to produce hit songs, stand on a platform, or be a boss to influence others.
I say a sweet, “Hello,” to the checkout lady and invoke a smile. I whisper, “I’m praying for you,” to my husband and reassure him. I tell my daughter, “You’re beautiful,” and reinforce God’s view of her.
Destructive or Life-Giving
Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” I understand the accuracy of this Scripture because of personal experience.
“I don’t love you. I don’t want to be married anymore.” Those devastating words rang in my ears nine years into my first marriage. That short but potent message penetrated my heart and mind, throwing my life into a tailspin. I couldn’t change the reality of my situation, but I could decide whether I would allow those rejecting words to influence my thoughts toward myself. Was I truly unlovable?
I sought counsel. My wise friend spoke these words of truth, “You have been functioning for others’ acceptance. But your Creator loves and accepts you as you are, not based on your performance. When you understand who you are in Christ you can function from His acceptance.” That message inspired me to find my worth in Jesus alone.
Intentional or Unintentional
We can use our influential positions to send intentional messages. We can plan our words with specific goals in mind.
When a friend calls for advice, I ponder her dilemma, pray, and choose my words deliberately. When an organization asks me to speak at an event, I mull over my speech for days. I understand the words I string together, the point I portray, will mingle with and possibly affect the listeners’ belief sets and responses. I want my words to be biblically sound—to guide my listeners toward God and His Word. Even in a secular setting, I can cautiously formulate my statements so as not to mislead.
On the other hand, we sometimes send unintentional messages. Perhaps we speak without thinking or we don’t fully grasp how far-reaching our circle of influence extends. But we should heed James’ words before opening our mouths. “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (James 3:5).
People around us are watching and listening. My son’s friend hears me rebuke him during a church service. Am I soft-spoken and loving or am I short and quick with my words? The impression I make will influence the friend’s picture of me, my church, and Christian behavior; perhaps even of Christ himself.
It’s important to remember as we speak to those within our circle of influence we are either pointing them toward the greatest love of all–God or away from Him. Even our smallest remarks or comments can make a difference in someone else’s life. A carefully spoken word will encourage, but a haphazard remark can dishearten.
We may not hold the audience Whitney Houston did. However, we each maintain some influence over other people. Therefore, we should think before we speak. Praying about our words and remembering, as Christians, we represent Christ will help us use our influence wisely. Whether we are at home talking with our family, at work speaking with a co-worker, or at church leading a women’s Bible study, we have a responsibility to send clear, concise, and purposeful messages. Our messages empower. Our words matter.