Four Compliments for Every Sting

July 24, 2023

The older brother was angry at his younger brother, again. It seemed it was always the case. He didn’t know why his little brother made him so angry. He loved putting down his younger brother, even going to the point of Googling, “How to put down stupid people.” Armed with new material, he waited until a family gathering and the perfect moment to attack. His little brother said something that seemed silly and the big brother responded, “You are so stupid you couldn’t pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel. You only have two brain cells and both of them are fighting for third place.” Then he looked around the room with a smug look on his face and declared, “My little brother is sharp as a marble, isn’t he?” Embarrassed to the core the little brother ran from the room in tears. It would be years before his confidence in himself would return.

I have heard it said that takes four compliments to counteract the negative impact of one sting put down. The Bible has much to say about holding one’s tongue and avoiding saying curses over people. In Romans 12:14 we read, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” It is really a challenge to avoid cursing those we love, but to bless those who persecute us really makes this hard. Of course, the one’s we feel most persecuted by are usually people who are supposed to love us: brothers, sisters, teachers, and people that are important to us. When they curse us, it can cut deep wounds into our souls.

It is the second part of that scripture that especially intrigues me. Paul challenges us not only to avoid cursing people we are struggling with, but to find a way to bless them. Our words of blessing can change a person’s life in wonderful ways. Paul also says in Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” This is a scripture I pray through often and try to live by, that my words for others will build them up.

I found this moving story which happened in a Catholic school in Morris, Minnesota. It has been printed in numerous forms over the years. One of the teachers asked her students to write down the names of the other students and next to each name write the nicest thing they could say about that classmate. The teacher collected all the papers and then made a list for each student of all the nice things written about them. The next day she gave each student their list. There was a lot of excitement in the room as the students talked with each other about all the nice things written.

No one ever mentioned those papers in class again, but the teacher was pleased that her goal to build the students up had been accomplished. Years later, one of the students named Mark, was killed in Viet Nam. When the teacher went to the funeral home a soldier approached her and asked, “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” She nodded, “Yes.” Then he said, “Mark talked about you a lot.”

At the luncheon after the funeral, Mark’s mother and father approached her and said, “We want to show you something.” His father took out a wallet and said, “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed a tattered piece of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded, and refolded many times. The teacher knew it was the list of Mark’s good qualities from his classmates.

Mark’s mother said, “Thank you so much for doing that. As you can see, Mark treasured it.”

Mark’s classmates had gathered at this point. Charlie said, “I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.” Marilyn added, “I have mine too. It’s in my diary.” Then Vicki shared, “'I carry mine with me at all time. I think we all saved our lists.”

The teacher got to see the power of blessing others. We can too! Who have you blessed today? Do you find it easier to bless or to curse others? How can praying, and asking God to teach you to bless others and not curse them help? What is the greatest blessing you have ever received and how has it changed your life? I challenge you to live and change other’s lives the same way. (To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles see,