Have you ever been going about your day, minding your own business, when a friend or coworker asks if you’re feeling well or comments about how tired you look?
I don’t know about you, but when that happens to me, my reaction is instantaneous. I may have left the house that morning looking my best and feeling fabulous, but all of a sudden, I feel haggard, worn out and possibly in need of antibiotics (or at least a nice long nap).
It’s rather alarming what a few short words—even those spoken out of true concern—can do to rattle my confidence and deflate my emotions.
But it’s also amazing how a few very different words can have the opposite effect.
When my daughter Lilly was small, I saw this happen over and over as I watched her interact with strangers in public places. It didn’t matter whether we were standing in line at Fazoli’s, waiting at the customer service desk at Kohl’s or milling around the lobby at church. She’d spot a girl or woman nearby, make eye contact and then speak with the poise of a much-older kid.
“I like your shirt,” she’d say in her sweet little voice.
Or, “I like your purse.”
“I like your tattoo.”
“I like your hair.”
It made no difference how many piercings the person had, how old she was, whether her hair was blond or blue, what size she wore or whether her clothes were skimpy, ripped or outdated. Lilly always found something nice to say.
My daughter loves people and even now, as a teenager, finds compliments to be great conversation starters. Back then, however, this introverted mama wondered whether I should rein her in a bit. Was she doing it to get attention? Maybe people didn’t want to be bothered as they waited in line.
But as I observed her in action, I began to notice something.
Lilly would share her compliment, and inevitably, here’s what happened next. The girl or woman would turn to her friend and say something like, “Aw, did you hear that? That just made my day.”
Time and again, her sincere words touched the hearts of the people to whom she offered them. It was ministry in its simplest form.
And as I watched my little girl identify lovely things about the people around her and care enough to let them know, I started following her example.
While greeting at the church door on Sunday mornings, pushing my cart through the aisles at Wal-Mart or checking in for volunteer work at our elementary school, I started to pay much closer attention to the people who passed by and then comment on what I saw.
“That’s a really good color on you.”
“What a beautiful scarf!”
“I love your necklace.”
I know. A compliment from a middle-aged mom doesn’t have quite the same effect as one from a five-year-old girl with dimples and shiny black ponytails. But I know how much it means to me to hear such words, so I keep offering them.
Here’s the thing. You don’t have to say something spiritual, talk for 15 minutes, share a Bible verse or pray for someone in order to encourage her.
People like to be noticed. They like to know that someone else really sees them.
And, as I learned from Lilly, it’s easy enough to tell them.