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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Words of Kindness, Source of Healing

Words of Kindness, Source of Healing

Florence Littauer describes how words of encouragement can be one of the most wonderful gifts you could ever give. Through several moving stories, she illustrates how words can literally change somebody's life for better or for worse.
Original Air Date: June 26, 2017


Florence Littauer: One little girl, and I’ll never forget this little precious child, she stood up at the end of the row, she turned to all the people, and she said to them, “What she means is…”

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: Amazing. Amazing how a little child… she’ll interpret it so the adults can understand.

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: And she said, “What she means is that our words should be like a little silver box with a bow on top.”

End of Preview

John Fuller: That’s our guest on today’s episode of Focus on the Family, the late Florence Littauer. Remembering a moment at church that led her on a quest to give others the gift of encouraging words. Welcome to our show. Uh, your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: And John, the world lost an amazing author, speaker, and encourager when Florence died in the summer of 2020, and our condolences go out to her family. Florence taught communication skills for over 30 years and wrote over 40 books, including the bestseller, Personality Plus, based on the Hippocratic theory of four basic personality types.

John: Yeah, and today’s content is taken from another hugely popular book called Silver Boxes: The Gift of Encouragement, and you can get a copy from us here at Focus on the Family when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or visit focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Here’s Florence Littauer on Focus on the Family.

Florence: It was a couple of years ago that, uh, I was, uh, sitting in a church and I was just one of the people in the congregation. And as I was sitting there, the pastor looked down at me and he said, “I see that Florence Littauer is in our audience this morning. He said, “I think it would be nice if we had her come up front and say a few words.” Now for some of you that might be a shock to be called forward to say a few words spontaneously. For me, I have never been at a loss for words and I never mind being brought forth to say a few words.

Florence: So, I got out of my seat and started up the aisle. As I started up the aisle, he, uh, looked down and he said, “In fact, why don’t we have Florence do the children’s sermon this morning?” And all of the children came up front so that by the time I got to the front there was this whole group of children in front of me. So, as I looked at this little group, I thought to myself, uh, “What am I going to say to them?” Well, I thought right off, “A verse. I’ll teach them a verse.” The verse that came to my mind immediately was a verse that we had used with our children, and the verse is Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearer.”

Florence: And they all looked wide-eyed, and they said like, “Oh.” And I said, “Do you think you can understand that?” Oh, they didn’t know if they can understand that or not. Let’s start right at the beginning. It says, “Let no corrupt communication…” And I said, “Now what is corrupt communication?” One little boy spoke out and he said, “Being nasty to your mother.” I said, “That’s right. Don’t do that. That’s bad (laughs).” And, uh, they all agree that was bad to do. We shouldn’t try that one. And we went on and they pulled out little things what it meant, all kinds of bad things to say.

Florence: Then I said, “All right, that’s what the verse says we are not to do. Now let’s look and see what should we do. So, it says that we should let no corrupt communication proceed out of our mouths, but that which is good.” And I said, “Do you all know what good means?”

Florence: “Oh, yes. Good.” They knew good. I said, “Good to the use of edifying. What does edifying mean?” Well, they looked kind of wide about that. That’s a big word. And then one of the boys said, “Build up.” I said, “That’s right. Buildup. That our words are supposed to build up other people.” Then I went on to the next part of it. It says not only is it good to the use of edifying, but it is to minister grace. Now that’s heavy stuff for little children, minister grace. So, what does it mean minister grace? Somebody taking a class somewhere that said that grace was God’s unmerited favor. So, this little child spoke out, “God’s unmerited favor. ” I was amazed at the size of this child, that they knew that little phrase. They didn’t have any idea what it meant, but they knew the word. Somebody taught it to them.

Florence: So, I said, “All right, that’s good. That’s wonderful. That that means that God has given us a favor. That’s what grace is. So, if I’m to give you grace, I’m to do you a favor.” I said, “Now, how could I do you a favor?” Well, we went from favor into present into gift. And then we came up with, yes, every word that comes out of my mouth should be like a present. I should give you a present with my words. And I went on with that for a while with them and as I did one little girl, and I’ll never forget this little precious child, she stood up at the end of the row, she turned to all the people and she said to them, “What she means is…”

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: Amazing. Amazing how a little child… she’ll interpret it so the adults can understand.

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: And she said, “What she means is that our word should be like a little silver box with a bow on top.” I looked at her and I said, “That’s right. That’s what our word should be. That we should think of it like that. When our words come out, they should be like little silver boxes with a bow on top. Now, I loved what she said. It stayed in my mind. And I’ll never forget, even though I have no idea what the little child’s name was, but I’ll never forget her saying, “What she means is your words should be like a little silver box with a bow on top.”

Florence: Just the last year and a half that I’ve been working with this little concept, off and on, it’s made a difference to me. It’s made me measure my words in a different way. I began to think back, and I said to myself, “How have you spoken to your children?” And as I thought about it and I realized that, uh, it was easy for me to give silver boxes to my daughter, Marita. She and I have always agreed on everything. She’s so much fun. She’s just a laugh a minute. And if I ever feel discouraged or disheartened, my husband knows all he has to do is dial Marita and hand me the phone and life brightens up for me. No trouble giving silver boxes to Marita. Some of you may have a Marita. You may have a daughter or a son that just the sight of them lightens your life, makes you say good words, encourages you.

Florence: It was not hard for me to give silver boxes to Lauren. She always did everything right. Lauren’s very choleric and strong and she’s done it the right way. She always knew just how it should be done and she marched ahead, and she did it. Now sometimes she was telling me what to do along the process-

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: … but it was easy to thank her and encourage her because she was doing it right. Now you might say, “Isn’t that wonderful? She’s had these two perfect children.” But now I have an adopted son. Adopted son, Fred, is nothing like me at all. He and I have never had two thoughts in our entire lifetime that coordinated.

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: When I would say to my daughters, “Run,” they would run. I’d say to him, “Run,” he’d stop. He never seemed to wanna do what I wanted him to do. He said to me one day, “It amazes me that people pay money to hear you talk.”

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: That is not a silver box.

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: And I began to think about what had I said to him. It’s amazing how usually they’re reflecting in a way what we’re giving. And if we’re not giving out silver boxes chances are they’re not giving ’em back to us. So, I thought about it, and I remembered one day when he came home and he said to me, “Mrs. Johnson said that I have a charming personality.”

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: Now, I don’t know what you parents would have said, but before I even had a hesitation for a moment I shot out with the comment, “I’d sure like to see some of the charm around here.”

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: Now when you put that in the context of the silver box, Mrs. Johnson had given Fred a silver box. And what had I done? I’d taken it away. I’d thrown away the silver box. It was gone. I had wiped out everything Mrs. Johnson had said. I, as the mother, had taken away the praise he’d received. I looked back at my childhood, and I wondered, “Where did I get the affirmation? How did I go from being a child in three rooms behind a store without a ghost of a chance to amount to anything, remembering the lady that looked at my two brothers and me during the depression as we stood in the store and as she looked at us, she said to my mother, ‘It’s a shame there’s no hope for those children because they appear so bright.’” That wasn’t a silver box.

Florence: But it was truth at the time. There was no money. There was no hope. And I remember that, and I remembered saying to myself when I heard that lady… And I can picture her today and where she stood and what she looked like. I remember those words, words that knocked my blocks down. And I remember them, and I remember saying to myself, “Florence, you’ll show that lady.” And I worked to get there. But I thought back, I thought, “How did you do it? Who encouraged you?” And, uh, as soon as I began to think about it, as you might begin to think about your childhood, I realized that even though my mother never gave me a lot of affirmation, and when I asked her why she didn’t compliment me, she said, “You never know when you’re gonna have to eat your words.”

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: Mother was always afraid she’d have to eat a few words. She felt it’s better not to say any than to have to eat them. So, I thought about it. I thought, “Well, where did I get my affirmation?” And I realized I had a father who was affirming. I had a father who was constantly giving us positive words, who was positive every single day, who was lifting people up. Who, during the depression in our little store, people would come to our store just to hear my father’s encouraging words. I remembered back to my senior year in college, and I came home at Christmas vacation. And my father who was 72 at that time, he was 20 years older than my mother, and as, uh, I came home, he said to me one day, right after Christmas, “Florence, come in the back room. I wanna show you something.”

Florence: So, I went into the back room with him. He never took me there. He never left out of the store. And we went back into this little, tiny den, which was the only little haven we had. A little den with two pieces of furniture, a piano on one wall and a couch on the other that opened up. And when you opened it up, you could sit on the end of the couch and play the piano. That’s the size of the room. So here it was, you had wall to wall bed. And we went in there that day and my father reached behind that piano… You know, those upright pianos that have all the little holes in ’em. My father reached behind the piano, brought out this little box, little cigar box, and he opened it up. And I looked down and I said, “What’s that?” He said, “It’s a box that I had, and I hid it away.” And he said, “Somehow today I felt like showing you this box.” And I looked in there because I’m a curious person. If I’d known there was a box tucked away, I would have been looking at it.

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: But I didn’t know was there. And he showed it to me. It was full of clippings. And I looked in there. There were newspaper clippings. And I said, “What are these?” He said, “These are articles that I’ve written.” I said, “You can write?” You see my mother had always told me, “Your father didn’t have any education. You’ve got to get education so you can do better than your father.” My mother had fed me words like that. So, when my father said he’d written something, I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know my father was very bright. And I looked at him. I said, “You wrote these things.” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Why didn’t you tell me you could write?” It was almost like I deserved to know I had a smart father. Why hadn’t he told me before? And I said, “Why didn’t you tell me that?” And he said, “Because your mother always said, ‘Because you don’t have an education you shouldn’t try to write. What if you tried and it wasn’t any good? We’d all be humiliated.’”

Florence: My mother was always afraid we’d be humiliated so she never encouraged us to do anything, to take any risks or any chances. So, my father, he said, “I knew I could write.” He said, “I knew inside of me there was an ability to write.” So, he said, “I would write when your mother was out. And I would write, and I would send it into newspapers. And I’d watch the newspaper until it came out, and then I’d cut it out and I put ’em all in this box. And he said, “Somehow, today, I wanted to give you the box.” And I took that box and I looked through it. I couldn’t believe all these things my father had written. Important things.

Florence: And as I got to the bottom there was a letter in there from the United States Senate. I always have been interested in politics. I’ve always been interested in personalities. And it was from Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr. And I opened up this letter and it was to my father, and I said, “What did Henry Cabot Lodge write you for?” And he said, “Well, I wrote him a letter telling him how he shou- should run his campaign better, more efficiently and effectively next time.” And he said, “Because of that, he wrote me back a letter, and it was a personal letter. Two pages typed. And it said, ‘Dear Walter Chapman…’ And then it went down. ‘This idea was very good. I will implement that in my next campaign. This idea I cannot use for this reason.’” And he enumerated everything, two pages, answering my father’s letter, sharing with him what he liked about what he had said, and how he had thanked him and appreciated what he’d done for him. My father had written silver boxes to a senator, and he’d replied.

Florence: I was so amazed. I put that back in the envelope. Put all the clippings back in there. And I said to my father, “Let’s, let’s put it back behind the piano.” So, we did. We put it back behind the piano and I said, “But I’ll know it’s there.” As we left that little room to go back into the store, my father put his hand on my shoulder and he looked at me, he said, “Florence, I think I tried for something too big this time.” And I said, “What’s that?” He said, “Well, I wrote into our denominational magazine, and I told them how they ought to change the way they chose the nominating committee for the National Convention.” Now see, my father didn’t write trivia. He cared.

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: He had the big picture. And he said, “I wrote in and told them how they should do it differently.” He said, “Good suggestions.” And he said, “It’s been three months now and they haven’t published it yet.” And then he looked at me again and he said, “Florence, I guess I’ve tried for something too big this time.” Those were the last words my father ever said to me because the next day my mother and he took the first day off they’d had in 20 years. I stayed home and took care of the store with my two brothers. My mother and father went into Boston at four o’clock in the afternoon, walking through the subway station in Park Street in Boston my father dropped to the pavement.

Florence: At the morning of the funeral, I was sitting in the store opening up the cards that had come. For those days, many cards had come, because you see, everyone loved my father because he gave them encouraging words. And as I opened up these cards of sympathy from all the people that came into our store, I noticed the magazine, our denominational magazine. I never would have looked at it at such a time except my father told me. I opened up that magazine and look through it, and inside, there was my father’s article. For More Democracy, Walter Chapman. It came the day of the funeral.

Florence: I’m so grateful today that my father showed me that box. Because you see, I have those clippings. And I have framed on my wall at home, I have the article from that magazine and a picture of my father. And I also have the letter from Henry Cabot Lodge. Sr. And I went back to Boston, and I got a picture of him. And I have Henry Cabot Lodge and his letter and my father and his article. And I have those framed on the wall in my study so that every day as I pass by, I’ll remember the value of an encouraging word. Because you see, my father had a box of broken dreams. Things he could have been if only someone had encouraged him.

John: You’re listening to Florence Littauer on Focus on the Family. And you can get her book, Silver Boxes: The Gift of Encouragement, as well as a CD of this entire presentation when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or you can donate t-… and request those at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Let’s go ahead and return now to more from Florence Littauer.

Florence: One time I sat down with my husband’s mother. We’d never had anything much to say to each other. She seemed to be a superior being. She seemed to be above everybody else. She was elegant and beautiful. Said the right things, did the right things, had the big home, knew how to pour tea out of silver pots. All the things I never learned. I looked at her with envy all my life. I was afraid of her because she was so put together. Because she knew how to do everything with such style and flair, and I wanted so much to do that. So, I’d never really had a one-to-one conversation with her until this one night just a number of years ago when I sat with her in her living room and I didn’t know what to say to her and I, I asked one of those trite questions. I said, “Mother, what was it like when you were young?” You know, you’re getting old when people ask you that. People have started asking me that.

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: My grandchildren. “Grammy, what was it like when you were young?” They think I knew Abraham Lincoln personally.

Audience: (laughs).

Florence: So, I asked my husband’s mother, “What was it like when you were young?” not knowing what I’d get for an answer. And she said, “Oh…” Immediately she said, “Oh, I remember when I was in college, I had this boyfriend that I was so in love with him. We were going to get married.” And she went on telling me about this and I looked at her wide-eyed. I’d never thought of my mother-in-law having a boyfriend. Somehow it just didn’t seem to make sense. And as I looked at her… And so, I said to her, “Well, tell me about him, Mother,” and she told me that she and he were going to get married, and when they graduated from college… And she graduated from Cornell when she was 19… And she said, uh, “When we graduated from college, we went two separate directions for the summer. He was going to call me in the fall, and we were going to get married.”

Florence: I said, “Well, what happened?” She said, “Well, when the fall came, he never called me.” She said, “He never called.” I looked at her. I said, “You mean he never called you?” She said, “He never called, I never heard from him again.” I said, “What did you do?” She said, “Well, I cried a lot.” Tears came down her cheek. I’d never seen my mother-in-law relaxed. I’d never seen her real. And you may have some person that you deal with that, you know, is not real. You’ve never really gotten in there behind who they appear to be, behind the wall they built around themselves and… for protection. I’d never noticed it or realized that was what it was, but as I turned to her, she cried and she said, “He never called me, and my mother didn’t like him anyway because he didn’t come from a rich enough family.”

Florence: And her mother’s theory always was you could marry and fall in love with a rich man as well as a poor man. That was her family motto. She said, “My mother didn’t like him anyway.” She said, “After a while my mother introduced me to Fred Littauer,” and she said, “I married him on the rebound.” And then she looked at me and she said, “I never was in love with him.” This is Fred’s father. And I looked at her and I said, “You weren’t?” She said, “No. I did the right things. I played my role.” And she said, “I had the five children, and I was the good wife,” and as she said this she was crying. And she said, “But I never was in love with him.”

Florence: What did that make me feel about my mother-in-law that I had been judgmental and negative about? That I thought this is a cold lady. I never knew she’d had a problem like that before. And I looked at her with a different feeling. And then she said, “But that’s not the end.” She said, “A couple of years ago I went to a party.” She’s in her 70s and she said, “I went to this party.” She said, “I looked across the room and there was this man standing there.” And she said, “I looked at him,” and she said, “He looked like that young man that I’d been so in love with.”

Florence: She said, “I walked across the room to get a view so I could look at him,” and she said, “When I got near him, he turned and he looked at me and he said, ‘You are Marita.’” And she said, “I looked up at him and said, “You’re John.” And she said, “I started to talk with him.” She said, “I looked at him and I said, ‘Would you answer me one question? Why did you never call?’” She said, “He looked at me and he said, ‘Oh, I called many times and each time I got your mother. And each time your mother said, ‘She doesn’t love you. She doesn’t wanna hear from you again. Please don’t call.” And he said, ‘The last time I called your mother said, ‘She’s engaged to marry someone else. Don’t ever call again.”” She looked up at me and she said in tears, “My mother’s words ruined my life.”

Florence: What a different feeling I had about my mother-in-law that day. How bad I had felt for the judgment that I had put upon that lady in years past. How aloof I’d felt she was, how cold, how artificial, when all the time she was hiding a broken heart. I said to her, “Mother, what would you have been if you could have been anything you wanted to be in your life?” She said, “Oh, I would have been an opera singer.” I said, “An opera singer? I didn’t even know you could sing.” She said, “That’s because I’ve never sung since I got out of college.” I said, “Did you sing before?” She said, “I majored in music.” I’d never known that. Of course, I’d never asked her. She said, “I majored in music.” And she said, “I wanted to be an opera star.” I said, “Why didn’t you go and do it?” She said, “Because my mother said, ‘There’s no money in that. You’ll never make it. You don’t have enough talent. Come into the family business and that way you’ll be secure. That way you’ll have money.’” And she said, “So I gave up singing.” And she said, “But inside, I’ve always wanted to be an opera singer.”

Florence: I never knew that about her. I didn’t know she had any hidden desires. And then she got up from the chair and she went down the hall. She came back with a box, a big suit box. She opened up the box. She pulled out some pictures. And in it was this picture. She said, “I want you to see this picture.” She said, “This is a stage set.” She said, “Because I want you to know that I did once have the lead in an opera.” She said, “It was my senior year in college.” She said, “Here I am, right here in the center.” She said, “I’m that one in the wing chair.” And she said, “These are all the cast around me.” She said, “I had the lead in the opera.”

Florence: Now she gave it to me, and she said, “Here. You take this picture. Your daughters named after me. Give this to Marita. I want her to have it. I want her to know that her grandmother could have been something if she’d ever had the chance. If she’d ever had an encouraging word. If someone had given her a silver box.” Oliver Wendell Holmes once said many of us die with the music still in us. Fred’s mother died with the music still in her. My father died with the music still in him. Each one of them had a box of broken dreams. A box of clippings, a box of pictures, memories of what they’d done that no one knew about that had never become fulfilled. Both of them died with the music still in them.

Florence: During Fred’s mother’s latter years, when Fred and I went to visit her, her mind had totally left her. She could not communicate. She couldn’t say a word. We had no idea whether she could hear what we were saying or not, whether she understood anything. She was unable to articulate a word. I asked the nurse one day when I was down visiting her in Miami here in Florida and I said, “Does Mother ever talk?” She said, “No. She never says a word.” And then she looked at me and she said, “But that’s the strangest thing. That every once in a while, she’ll stand up and she’ll sing opera.” Oh, isn’t it amazing what’s still in our minds? Many times, our minds have forgotten what our heart still remembers. Her heart still wanted to be an opera singer. And the last night before she died, she stood up at the dinner table and the nurse told us that she stood there, and she sang opera. And she said, “When she’d finished, I clapped for her, and she held her hands and she bowed, and she bowed.” You see, the opera was still in her. And she said, “When I went in the next morning, she was asleep with her hands like this and a smile on her face. She died with the music still in her.”

Florence: In the Song of Solomon it says, “Yes, the winter has passed. The rains are over and done. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of singing has come.” Is there someone at home waiting for you to give them a season of singing? Is there someone there who’s just waiting for a silver box? Who’s waiting for word of encouragement from you? Yes, there may be somebody you know who has a song waiting to be sung, perhaps who has a race waiting to be run. Maybe a piece waiting to be played. Perhaps a scene waiting to be staged. A tale waiting to be told or a book waiting to be sold. A rhyme waiting to be read or a speech waiting to be said. If you know such a person, don’t let them die with the music still in them.

John: The late Florence Littauer on today’s Focus on the Family. And Jim, uh, what a good reminder, to reach out and spend time encouraging those around us.

Jim: It really was, John. And what a great way to bless others. Uh, you know, the Bible talks a lot about the power of our words, especially in the book of Proverbs. Here are just two examples. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” And Proverbs 12:18 says, “Rash words like the thrust of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” And you know, these are great verses to post on the refrigerator, on your bathroom mirror as a reminder to use encouraging words rather than critical ones.

John: That’s a really good idea, Jim. And as we’ve noted before, being careful about our words is especially important in marriage.

Jim: Whoo, it’s so true, John. And supporting marriages is one of our primary goals here at Focus on the Family. Our surveys tell us that over the past year over 600,000 couples built a stronger relationship using Focus resources. And an additional 100,000 couples say that Focus helped them through a major crisis in their marriage. Here’s one example from a man named David. He wrote, “After I admitted to having an affair, my wife was devastated and turned to alcohol to escape our broken marriage. We lived like strangers for two years while the devil urged me to get a divorce. Fortunately, we started listening to the Focus on the Family podcast, which was like a healing balm.”

John: Hmm.

Jim: “If it wasn’t for the hope you provided, I would be a divorced husband and an estranged father. Thank God for your ministry. You saved my marriage and my family. God bless you.”

John: Wow, what a story.

Jim: That’s a great example of what the Lord is doing through our collective efforts. So, let me ask you: if you’ve benefited from the ministry of Focus on the Family, would you please consider making a generous donation today? We are a nonprofit ministry, and we rely on your support as we continue our mission to provide help and hope to families around the world.

Jim: And when you make a donation of any amount, I’d like to send you a copy of Florence’s great book, Silver Boxes, which has much more encouraging content than we were able to share on this program. Get in touch with us today and take advantage of our matching opportunity before it runs out. Your gift will be doubled so that you can have twice the impact.

John: Yeah, it’s hard to believe that Friday marks the end of the year, so please get in touch with us this week, uh, today, as Jim said. Call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or you can donate online and request the book, Silver Boxes, at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Next time, another of our top broadcasts of the year, as we hear from Debra Fileta. She’ll explain the different seasons of marriage, like spring.


Debra Fileta: It’s the season of planting good seeds- … and uprooting weeds, the things that we don’t wanna see in our relationship. So, in nature and in relationships, the season of spring is really important.

End of Preview

John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.



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Accepting Your Imperfect Life

Amy Carroll shares how her perfectionism led to her being discontent in her marriage for over a decade, how she learned to find value in who Christ is, not in what she does, and practical ways everyone can accept the messiness of marriage and of life.

RVL Discipleship: The Study

Want to read the Bible like never before?

Get your free episode from our new Bible study, RVL Discipleship: The Study, so you can understand the context of Scripture and hear Jesus’s words the way the first Disciples did.