“Sticks and Stones will break my bones,
but Words will never hurt me.”
Likely you’ve known this old English nursery rhyme your entire life. First recorded in 1894, it was taught to encourage children not to let name calling or hurtful words bother them. A way of responding to a “bully.”
And though we may still instruct our kids to just let someone’s words roll off us, how much easier said than done! Young or old, words do affect us. Deeply.
I’m not even talking about bullying. I’m talking about everyday conversations with family members, friends and strangers. What we say matters and what we say sticks with someone in a way that can hurt far deeper and longer than a broken bone.
No wonder in just a quick search of the Bible I found nearly 60 references to the power of the tongue – for good or for evil. It’s easy to see how gossip, slander, deceitfulness and lies are hurtful, but do we stop to consider our quick-tempered, dismissive, haughty or thoughtless words? What about our lack of encouraging, non-sympathetic, abrasive or impatient words? Or maybe it’s the emptiness in our words or the neglect of words altogether?
We can probably all think of times words made us feel slighted, less than, insignificant, judged, misunderstood, confused or rejected, whether the speaker of such words knew it or not. This tells me that my words can also sting, whether I know it or not.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up…that it may give grace…” Ephesians 4:29
To corrupt is to debase, alter or change from good to bad. Therefore if our talk can be corrupting, our words have the ability to alter someone’s mood and change their self-talk for the worse! At other times our words are actually used by God to build up and encourage. Either way that’s a lot of power our words have!
The fact words can leave such a lasting mark on someone else tells me just how fragile and broken we really all are. We all care about what other people think and at times it rules us, causing us to over-analyze their words often giving them too much weight. That could be another whole post, but for today – for each of us in our conversations – two thoughts…
1. Pay attention. By this I mean we may need to talk less and listen more. If I am more concerned with what I am going to say next or what is going on in my own mind/heart than I will not ask the right questions, follow-up in the right way, encourage or affirm the one to whom I am speaking. Because of this alone we miss opportunities daily to pursue people and to embody Christ to one another.
2. Since this is true – we will all hurt and be hurt by the words or lack of words from others – Confessing and forgiving words need to be a regular part of our vocabulary. Obviously we can’t confess what we aren’t aware of, but are we fostering the type of relationships where another person could confidentally come and say we hurt them and know our response would be filled with grace and not defensiveness? And, when we do know we’ve hurt someone are we quick to seek forgiveness or do we sweep it under the rug or somehow put the blame back on them?
How thankful I am that The Word – the Word who is Christ – always has the final word. His truths are our foundation and who He says we are in Him is unchanging and secure!