“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s a saying that I heard more than once when I was a child. And, I believe that this saying is wrong.
In the simplest form a word is something we use to convey an image, emotion, or express a thought. Words have immense power over our lives. Words have the power to heal, or destroy. Words have the power to bind people together, or tear them apart. Words have the power to bring peace, or initiate war. Words have power, especially when they come out of our mouths.
I’ve been a recipient of many kind words, and I’ve been the recipient of many harsh words. When I think back on those messages I have a definite emotional reaction in recalling those words – either of peace or of conflict. I can still hear some of the hurtful words that were spoken to me from when I was a child. Snippets of those words spoken from my mother have stayed with me through these many, many years: “You’re not good enough. I hope when you grow up you’ll have a child just like you so you can see just what you put me through. You’ll never be as smart as your brother. Why can’t you do anything right?” Snippets of words spoken to me by my father have also stayed with me: “You are beautiful and I treasure you. You did a great job. I am proud of you.”
Those experiences molded me into how I react when I receive negative words and criticism. While I would like to say that I receive criticism, and some critical truths graciously, that would be a false statement. I am a driven person that always wants to do everything right, and when I have someone point out to me just how I’ve failed on that front, I don’t take it well. Perhaps it’s all in the delivery of those statements, but it seems to me that even when the words are couched well, and the approach is gentle, I still react negatively. I think back to a time when someone, another Christian, was attempting to counsel me during the time I was separated from my ex-husband. She spoke truth to me, I didn’t want to receive the truth at that point of time, and so I discounted some of the information that she provided – Biblically-based truth. I admire her for speaking that truth to me. I admire that she had the strength of character to not just sit and listen to my sob story, and not agree with everything that I said. I wish I still had a relationship with her, and am attempting to reconnect. She’s a person whom I would like to re-establish and she would be an excellent accountability partner. But, I digress.
I too am guilty of using words to wound others. I will never, ever forget the Michigan day that several of us parents took our children out sledding after a significant snowfall. My son was probably about seven years old at the time. It was a beautiful day, with some sunshine (Michigan doesn’t get much sunshine in the winter), but it also was windy and very cold. I remember looking at my son who had on all his winter gear, except for his gloves. He’d left them at home. I was so frustrated with him that I looked him in the eye and said the following words to him: “How could you be so stupid?” And, to this day, I cringe when I remember this incident. I had done to my son, just what my mother had done to me. I wounded my precious son, the hurt on his face was enough to cause even more grief in my soul. I was his mother, I was to be his role model, his guide, I was to teach him right from wrong, I was supposed to be the one who loved him unconditionally. And, with six simple words, I destroyed a piece of my own child.
James Dobson said “The most successful marriages are those where both (the) husband and wife seek to build the self-esteem of the other.” This statement speaks volumes to me, so much so that I have it on a picture in our big rig that I look at each and every day. Thinking back on my first marriage, I don’t see many times where either of us lived under those guidelines. So when I entered into my second marriage, I took this saying to heart. And, I made it a point to say wonderful, nice things to my husband. I tell him the qualities that I admire about him. And, while initially he was suspicious as to why I was building him up so, I think that he actually liked those words.
However, there’s been a downside to this – my mouth. I still have problems with the tongue that seems to be the strongest member in my body. I have problems with it rearing up and spewing out poison on the people with whom I am frustrated. Unfortunately, that usually happens to be my husband. It happens very easy and very quickly. And, usually, although not always, I am deeply remorseful for those unkind things that I say. And, with those unkind words to him, I have negated all those wonderful words that I spoke into him, I’ve ruined my witness. I’ve confused him to the point that he has said something to the effect of “You build me up, you tell me that I’m a wonderful husband, and then you turn around and tell me that basically I’m terrible when you tear me down.” Guilty on all charges!
That’s not the wife I want to be, at all. That’s not the mother I want to be. That’s not the friend I want to be. That’s not the Christian I want to be. Well, I’ve got a long, long way to go, and I can only control my tongue when I let God take control – on my own, I am woefully inadequate.
Lord, I come to you today realizing that the words that come out of my mouth are vitally important. Help me Lord to control not only the words that I say, but also the tone in which I convey those words. I cannot do this on my own. Fill me with your peace God, help me build people up, and not tear them down. Let me speak the truth in humility and love. Amen.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18:21, ESV)
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. (Proverbs 15:1-2, ESV)
“Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23, ESV)
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26, ESV)