We’ve all heard it and said it, “Sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words will never harm me.” At one time or another, I would guess that we all have experienced words that actually did hurt us, cut deeply into our being, and maybe even broke our heart.
Words have power for either good . . . or bad. I know — I have experienced both, and words that hurt us can leave deep, invisible scars that last for a lifetime.
At this point in my life, I don’t believe my mother knew how her harsh, critical, demeaning words took those around her to a dark and doubting world. I remember coming in from school on several occasions so excited by something a teacher had said, or an accomplishment I was proud of, and trying to tell my mother. Often, it would be that she was just too busy with chores. Other times it would landslide into a full out questioning of the incident I wanted to relate. Was I sure that was what the teacher said? Did I really accomplish something on my own, or was I making it up? Now, those words don’t necessarily sound too volatile, but imagine yourself as a child, your heart and soul bursting with pride, only to be brought down by someone’s expression of doubt.
Years later, I realized that subconsciously I had absorbed my mother’s ability to spew words in ways that hurt others, but most especially my young son. My marriage had ended in divorce and I was left a single, working mother raising a son alone. Circumstances had eventually placed us in my parents’ home following the divorce, and this meant that my son received not only a barrage of words from my mother as she cared for him while I worked, but I would come home tired in the evening and my patience diluted by the day’s stresses.
As he grew and began school, homework and studies became a problem at night because of my fatigue, and one evening I heard myself using some of the same litanies my mother had used with me. Imagine my shock as I looked into my son’s face and saw that I had just destroyed the joy and excitement of a day that for him had been special. That is when I began to rethink who I was and what my childhood had bequeathed me in the form of words and language. It took me some time to put that behind me, and when my son grew older and began college, I had the opportunity to sit down and explain to him what had happened to me and to him. I apologized for the treatment I had rendered in the form of powerful and hurtful words. Hoping that the power of my kind words and explanation would preclude or change the course of our family’s temperamental verbal barrages, I have patiently watched and seen him grow into a more patient individual in that regard. That isn’t to say he isn’t impatient in other areas of his life!
So, when you use your words, think first and speak when you’re certain that what you are about to say has God’s seal of approval as found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need
—words that will help others become stronger.”
Ephesians 4:29 (NCV) (emphasis added)