“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”
It’s a saying that most of us learned in childhood, and it was supposed to remind us that words used against us are harmless. The only problem is that it is not the truth. Just ask Rebecca Sedwick, 12, Joshua Unsworth, 15, Erin Gallagher, 13, or Anthony Stubbs, 16, about the power of words. These are just a few of the growing number of teen suicides occurring each year as a direct result of cyber bullying. No one physically assaulted these children, but their souls were mutilated with destructive words, making their lives too painful to bear.
Words are powerful. When they take root in the soul, they can shape the future of a child and destroy the existence of an adult. Once you have pronounced them, you cannot erase the scars they leave behind.
My relationship with my father was marred through much of my life due to his response to my mediocre grades in school. My older sister was scholastically gifted, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't equal her performance. Instead of seeing and praising my effort, my father only saw my grades as evidence of laziness and lack of motivation. He would get angry and physically punish me, but the real damage was the torrent of critical words he unleashed over me.
Eventually I quit trying, and my anger and pain turned to open rebellion against him. Even after I became a pastor, our relationship was strained well into my mid-adult years until I received deep inner healing at a conference in Toronto. It was only then that I discovered how the emotional scars I had carried all those years were damaging all my relationships.
Words have creative power. Abba God spoke the entire universe into existence with words, and He has given us the same creative ability through our words. This power to use words is a unique gift and is part of our being created in the image of God. Our words have the power to destroy and the power to build up. Proverbs 18:21 states, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Our words can also be powerful forces for life. Proverbs 12:18 tells us, “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” And we hear in Proverbs 15:4, “Gentle words are a tree of life.” With our words, we have an arsenal at our disposal, through which we can release life, encouragement and joy—or destruction and death.
The book of James makes it clear that the decision is ours. James notes that too often blessing and cursing come from the same mouth, and he admonishes us that this is not right. He tells us that if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could control ourselves in every other way (see James 3:1-10).
The next time you are angry or feeling critical of someone, remember that the bumps and bruises of sticks and stones quickly heal, but the scars of the heart can last a lifetime. Let the power of your words be used by God to manifest the creative and edifying power of His love in the lives of others.
Come join us this Sunday at our 9:30 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. services. I am continuing our current series, “Reaching the Harvest,” and my sermon is “Reaching the Harvest by Being Salt and Light.”