Words: How harmful are they?
By Gerri Fieno
I love the simplicity of summer -- shorts and a tee shirt, slip on sandals or bare feet, lazy mornings with coffee on the porch instead of the carpool line, and evenings of fireworks, sparklers, and catching lightening bugs. But it's also the season of travel, out of town visitors, and a lot of togetherness as a family. These things are all great and wonderful, but they can also lead to a lot of stress. I recently sat with a girlfriend over coffee and talked about a visit with my family, some of the fun moments and some of the challenges, and she told me that I had described her family vacation! Isn't it funny how most families are really so much alike?
All of this reminded me of the saying from when I was a child."sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me". You remember that one? As a child, did you believe it? As an adult, do you believe it? The sad truth of the matter is that words can injure and hurt another person far deeper than any scrape with a stick. And while a scratch from a stone can be cleaned, bandaged, and kissed by mom, the hurt caused by another person's words can take much longer to heal. Words. They can be used to lift others up or tear them down. Encourage or discourage. Praise or insult.
Do you know somebody who speaks their mind about something regardless of how it hurts another person, only to have them rationalize their behavior as "honest" or "truthful"? Or a person who thinks they know exactly how others should live out certain aspects of their lives - you know - the ones that have the answers to everyone's problems - and feel obligated to share their wisdom? Is there somebody you are close to that feels compelled to find fault with others so they can feel better about themselves? Or how about the people who are just so unhappy with themselves that they are determined to make others feel bad about something in their lives?
Most of us have people in our lives that have hurt us with their words. Maybe it's a critical parent or bitter sibling. Maybe it's an envious coworker or neighbor, or a boss who's never satisfied with a completed assignment. Or maybe you can name at least one person in your life that fits into each one of these categories. Their words can leave us feeling hostile, rejected, unloved, and angry.
Relationships are hard - plain and simple. People are imperfect - all of us! And so I wonder, what do I do with these relationships that are so incredibly painful? I can't just walk away from them (as in the case of a sibling or parent), hide in my house (from a neighbor), give up my livelihood or passion. How do I cope? There is only one place I can turn to for restoration of my soul when it has been trampled on. I turn to the One whose opinion matters most, and remember who speaks the truth. Deuteronomy 14:2 says "for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession."
Satan would love nothing more than to tempt us into confrontation. Many times I am tempted to "explain" myself to others, "educate" them about their misunderstanding, misjudgment, or mistreatment of me, or "set the record straight". Only to come to the conclusion that I can't change them, their perceptions, or their view of reality. But God can change me. He can give me the armor I need to protect myself from this spiritual warfare and walk away from the temptation to sin against my attackers. He tells me how to react in Colossians 3:12-14 where Paul writes, "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with one another and forgive one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
Chances are, there is little any of us can do to change the hearts and attitudes of the people who hurt us. But HE can do plenty. If we allow God to lead us in our response, real change can come about in these relationships. But we must first put aside our own hurt and pain, and ask Him how to proceed. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Sometimes people are so used to doing things the way they do them, they don't know that they hurt you. I have a sister who says whatever is on her mind, and doesn't stop to consider that she might have been inconsiderate or hurtful with her words. There were times when I wanted to lash out at her for her comments and behavior. But remembering Paul's words in Ephesians 4:26, "In your anger do not sin" helped me to resist. I knew my reaction would have been one of anger and not love. Were her actions wrong? Yes, indeed. But for me, time alone and prayer helped me handle it without falling into Satan's trap. I was able to establish boundaries with her, without being tempted into a fruitless confrontation. Most importantly, I continue to pray for her salvation and change of heart. For I see a life that lacks joy, and want so desperately for her to find it in the one and only place it can be found, the love of Christ.
Ambassadors to Christ - that is our primary role. Do we need to be doormats? No - for as long as we speak the truth boldly and lovingly, we can be agents for change in the lives of those around us. If we retreat, and never come back to the battleground, we cannot be effective for Christ. If we attack prematurely, without the guidance and wisdom from the Holy Spirit, we cannot produce fruit for the Kingdom of God. Retreat into your heavenly father's lap for direction, encouragement, and the right words, and get back out on the battlefield!