Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words can never harm me
Growing up I heard this little rhyme many times. It was said to encourage those who were being bullied or harassed by others. However, this message is simply not true.
Words have such power.
Power to encourage, power to put down. Power to make you laugh, power to make you cry.
Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose…Proverbs 18:21
Spoken words that hurt:
As a young girl I experienced the harm that words can do. In the sixth grade my family moved in the middle of the school year. The first day at my new school I was walking up the stairs to my room when two young boys passed me on the stair well. Upon seeing me, one of the boys grabbed the other one and pulled him to the side of the stairs away from me. As I passed he said, “Look at her! She is ugly!” The other boy laughed and I quickly went on to my classroom.
When class started this young boy walked in and sat down in the row next to me. Every time the teacher would turn her back he would point at me and softly say “ugly.” This harassment continued on the playground. Soon he had half of the class laughing at me.
From that day on I felt so ugly. Only in my 40’s did I start to look at pictures of me as a young girl. While I would never win a beauty contest, I realized I was not ugly. But those words took me years to over come.
Unspoken words that hurt:
Then there are the words that we need to hear, but never do.
As a young girl I idolized my father. He was my hero. After my parents divorced I was very hurt and although I no longer looked up to him, I still loved him. But throughout my life I never heard him say “I love you.” In our relationship, words of praise were never on his lips. He was quick to point out anything I did or said that did not meet his approval. Others in the family told me he told them nice things about me, but I never heard any of them. To this day, as an old woman, I still wish I could have heard those words of love.
Spoken words that bless:
But I am thankful for the words of affirmation I have received from so many others in my life.
My husband who says “I love you” several times throughout the day.
My grandchildren who call to share memories from their childhood.
My sister who still calls me her “baby sister.”
My church family who speak words of encouragement and love every week.
Words that are misunderstood:
Looking back over my life at the old age of 70 I think of the many times that words have been misunderstood. Times when what I said and what they heard were different – or what they said and what I heard were different.
How sad I am for the times that misunderstanding led to broken relationships, hurt feelings, angry hearts.
How thankful I am for the ability to forgive and to ask forgiveness when those times occurred.
Now that I am writing more I worry about the words I use. Do I express myself clearly? Could what I say be hurtful although my intent might be to encourage?
My most recent concern was the post I made about not complaining. While I wrote that wanting to encourage us to count our blessings and not let circumstances get us down, I fear others may have seen it as implying we should never say we are hurting or we are discouraged.
So I ask God for wisdom in my writing. My prayer is that my words will be a blessing and that I will be more mindful of what I write and how I write.
This verse is my prayer both as I speak to others and as I write:
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer….Psalm 19:14