“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
If only that were true. Anyone who has lived long enough to be the recipient of hurtful words—and that’s pretty much anyone older than a day—knows that words can and do hurt. And they often hurt far worse and for far longer than sticks and stones would. I’ve received hurtful words in my life that I would gladly trade for getting knocked upside the head with a rock!
Words are powerful. They speak, not to the body, but to the soul. They lodge themselves in our minds and hearts and are not easily—if ever—removed once they’ve been spoken.
The wonderful thing is that this is not only true of hateful or cruel words. Gracious ones are powerful too. Proverbs 16 says that gracious words are sweet and healing.
Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24
Sweet to the soul. It’s amazing the way words can affect us like nothing else. Words are so incredibly powerful. They can tear down or they can build up. The problem is that we typically use our words for both.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? James 3:9-11
This message from James 3 is very familiar to those of us who have studied the Bible much or been around the church for long. And that may make it all the more tragic.
We know our mouths are a problem. We know that we scream harsh words at those we love. We know we mutter gossipy words about those we envy or dislike. We know we speak careless words without thought or regard for those they wound. We know we speak the worst of words under our breath assuming none will hear. We use words as we shouldn’t and they injure. They injure the targets of our words, and they injure us as the speaker of the words. And yet still we speak these words.
Jesus said that the real problem isn’t the mouth though—it’s the heart. When we speak hateful, hurtful, tearing down words, it’s a heart problem.
We need to commit our mouths to the way and heart of God, but not just our mouths. Our hearts as well. Until I can learn to love others well, I will only be able to control my words for so long. Eventually my heart will catch up to my mouth and over take it again.
So today I’m praying with the Psalmist:
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14
And I’m praying to let go of the hurtful words that I still hear in my head. Words I still replay from times long past. Words spoken or written by others; words that have hurt and torn down; words that have had longer lasting pain than any stick or stone ever would.
It’s true that words can hurt, but it’s equally true that they can heal. We carry a great and mighty power right on the tip of our tongues.