Right Word, Right Time

📅 July 25, 2020

Jefferson Smith was an unlikely senator. A Boy Ranger leader, judged to be too naïve to be politically savvy, he was summoned to Washington D.C. to fill a vacant Senate seat and keep quiet till the right man could be elected—a man who was in the pocket of James Taylor.

Mr. Smith goes to Washington and though the “insiders” treat him like a bumpkin, his simple goodness and strength of character, along with the expert advice of the beautiful and worldly-wise Clarissa Saunders, enable him to face unbeatable odds and short circuit Taylor’s political machine, exposing and ending years of political corruption.

Portrayed by Jimmy Stewart, Jeff Smith’s unforgettable scene—the filibuster in the Senate—is not only one of director Frank Capra’s crowning achievements, it is also one Hollywood’s finest moments.   

A David and Goliath story, the downtrodden and outnumbered man, waging a battle against impossible odds, and winning by the power of the spoken word.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” may be true in the sense that a spoken word has no power to inflict bodily injury.

Look back on your childhood and remember that incident when someone said the wrong thing at the wrong time and perhaps even relished the opportunity.

No gash opened. You did not have to flee the scene in search of a bandage to stop the flow of blood. You did not need a splint to stabilize a twisted muscle or broken bone.

But a wound resulted, nonetheless.

Here’s my example:

My family had moved from a small town in Texas to the big city of Jacksonville. I was 14, tall for my age, and definitely not up to the “cool” standard of the other 8th graders. I was desperate to make friends, but could not for the life of me break into a social circle….any social circle.

I finally found refuge in the library, working as a student aid. The only wrinkle was a girl, whose name I remember well, but will not use, who clearly judged me beneath her. I tried to engage her in pleasant conversation. She was unimpressed and disinterested, and asked my name.

I told her.

She replied: [sneering] “That’s the name of my dog.”

[A silly, childish incident which sticks in my memory like a bad commercial and has actually proven useful to share from time to time, when children get their feelings hurt.]

Perhaps the first memory that popped into your mind was exponentially worse than this. Perhaps the unkind and unnecessary words were from an adult—perhaps even a family member from whom there was no escape.

Words do wound.

And we have the power not to choose them.

We have the power to stop and think: What will be the end result of what I want to say?

We have the power to admit when we have used the wrong words and ask forgiveness.

Your mother was right. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Remember the superb scene at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when the ancient knight commends Indy for surveying the collection of chalices and selecting the right one with the desired result.

“You have chosen wisely.”

Let that be said of us and our speech, whether private or public, with people we love or people we are at odds with.

Your father was right: Think before you speak.

Establish a reputation for being the person to whom needy souls can turn in hours of abject sorrow and deepest need.

Practice kindness. Be wise. Use your experiences. Turn around and help the person walking the same path behind you.

You can “speak straight” and tell the truth and not mince words without leaving your hearer in pile of rubble on the floor.

Proverbs 15:23 A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good it is.

“Due season”—the right word at the right time.

Remember that moment? When a trusted friend, someone to whom you turned in a dark time, said exactly the right words and from that moment on, you were never the same?

I remember a time like that, when a godly counselor with one sentence straightened out my crooked thinking, turned me around, and set my feet on a path to spiritual and emotional health, initiating a process of restoration I am still enjoying 20 years later.  

Be the one who speaks that word.

Isaiah 35: 4. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.  

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Holly Bebernitz

Native Texan Holly Bebernitz moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 1967. After thirty years of teaching speech, English, and history on the secondary and college levels, she retired from classroom teaching to become a full-time grandmother. The change in schedule allowed the time needed to complete the novel she had begun writing in 1998. When Trevorode the Defender was published in March 2013, the author realized the story of the Magnolia Arms was not yet complete.