Half Empty with a Bug at the Bottom or Full and Running Over?

“Isn’t the cool weather lovely this morning?” I asked my patient as I seated her in the dental chair.

“Yeah, but before you know it it’ll be cold,” she said, “and I hate cold.”

“True, but don’t you just love to curl up under a blanket on a cold winter night?”

“I guess, but cold weather means the holidays are coming, and I hate the holidays.”

“Whaaat? Don’t you like visiting with your family and eating all those delicious Christmas cookies?” I said.

“Yeah, I do, but as soon as they leave, I’ll have a mess to clean up. It’ll take days to get my house back in order. And Christmas cookies? Hmph. All that butter and sugar. My cholesterol will never recover.”

No matter what I did to steer the conversation to the positive, my patient was determined to reroute it. Like a magnet with a negative charge, this lady was headed in one direction and one direction only. Even the happy news that she had no cavities didn’t brighten her smile.

“I’ll probably have five next time,” she grumbled as she made her way out the door.

“Wow,” my boss said, “her glass was certainly half empty.”

“More like half empty with a bug at the bottom,” I said, shaking my head.

We encounter negative people every day. The grumpy barista at the coffee shop. The rude waiter at the restaurant. The Debbie Downer co-worker who loves to point out everything that’s wrong. Sometimes, horror of horror, we’re the Negative Nellie dragging down the happiness and licking the red off everyone’s candy. '

But while negativity is powerful, positivity is even more powerful. A smile, a kind word, or an encouraging “atta-girl” has the ability to change someone’s day. It can raise the happiness meter in the room and make everyone within earshot smile.

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, said, “Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.”

This has been true in my life. When I was in sixth grade, my substitute English teacher, Mrs. Silva, wrote a note at the bottom of my writing assignment. I like the interesting verbs you used. You’re going to be a great writer someday. 

Thirty years later, I’m still a long way from being a great writer, but her words set me on the path and gave me a gentle nudge.

This summer I returned to my home town. Although I had tried unsuccessfully several times before to find my middle school teacher, a chance conversation with a relative provided the information I lacked.

Heart beating excitedly, I called her, explained who I was, and arranged to meet. When we visited that evening, I reminded her of the writing assignment long ago and the kind words she had written at the bottom.

“Oh my,” she laughed, “I graded so many papers that semester. I don’t remember.” 

“Oh, but I do,” I assured her. “Thank you for taking the time to encourage me. And for your part in my writing journey.”

I handed her a copy of my devotional book, Hungry for God … Starving for Time, inscribed with her name in the flyleaf. She sat quietly for a moment, flipping through the pages.

“I retired five years ago,” she said softly. “I’ve always wondered if I made a difference.”

Proverbs 16:24 says, “Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”

Today, we have the chance to affect someone’s life, either positively or negatively. Will we be like my patient with her glass half full and something nasty in the bottom? Or will we be like my middle school teacher with her glass so full it runs over and splashes onto everyone nearby?

Now it’s your turn. Has anyone ever spoken words of affirmation that changed the course of your life? Leave a comment below and share your story.

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  1. Words to remember when we think the little things we do don't make a difference. Those words may have been small things to that teacher but were huge to you and then you had the chance to encourage her in return. I'm sure your words will stay with her the rest of her life.

    1. I hope so, Barbara. I certainly owe her a debt of gratitude. Thanks for chiming in :)

  2. Vacation Bible School ladies were difference makers in my life with their kind words and teachings. They fed me more than cookies and Kool-aid. They built me up when I was abandoned with the Gospel stories that I get to serve now a days over a teacup. Kindness is always a sweet treat.

    1. Oh my, Carolyn, to pair kindness with the Gospel? Now that's a powerful punch. (And that's not a koolaide joke.) I, too, had a life-changing VBS moment. I wonder how many of us were spiritually impacted by kind ladies at VBS? Hugs to you!

  3. What a blessing! Thanks so much for sharing your heart Ms. Lori. Caused me to think back to some of the kindness shown by others in my life. I've got some Thank You cards to send.


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