Yesterday, on Judge Faith, 2 friends (or, rather, ex-friends) were on opposite sides of the disagreement, one suing the other for whatever. They had been best friends, eating, drinking, traveling, living together. Yet here they were, in a TV courtroom. So, what happened? It turned out that one had called the other a hurtful, nasty name, irreparably damaging the relationship.
Now, she may have been overly-sensitive, or thin-skinned, or any number of ridiculous labels designed to make the victim deserving of the behavior, but one thing is certain, we cannot deny the power of our words.
I think about this often, mostly because I have the unfortunate opportunity to witness all of the ways we destroy each other – and ourselves – with our words.
The rhyme we repeat to our children “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,’ is a filthy lie. As we all know, broken bones heal much faster than wounds inflicted with a sharp tongue.
Proverbs 18:21 says “The tongue has the power of life and death.” This is undeniable, regardless of any silly limericks we tell our kids to pretend otherwise.
In our house, the only curse words are ‘stupid,’ ‘fat,’ and others like them whose sole purpose is to shrink, to belittle, to make you small in the misguided hope that I might become larger.
Think of the words in our heads – if you would hear them out loud, directed towards someone else, you would recoil in horror. Yet it’s the tape that runs on repeat in our minds. Why is that? Is it any wonder we all suffer from depression, anxiety, insecurity? Is it any wonder we accept all sorts of verbally abusive behaviors from those who would lie and say, ‘I love you,’ with the same weapon that has just pierced our souls?
Last week, I spoke at a correctional center, and as I walked around the room, looking in each man’s eyes, my heart broke over and over. You know the look I saw – one of deep shame, guilt, sadness, and pain. They’ve been told over and over that they are something less until it’s the only thing they believe. They wear this garbage they’ve been sold as skin. So, when I tell them the Truth, that they are human beings (not their pasts, not their charges, not their fathers, not their bad decisions), made in the image of a God who made them and loves them beyond all reason, I am looked at with suspicion. Can this new narrative be true?
In Rogue One, Chirrut says to Cassian, “There is more than one prison. I think you carry yours wherever you go.” These men can be released, but the prisons made of the stories they’ve been told are still intact, and still very present.
The Israelites were freed from their slavery in Egypt, but it wasn’t long before they were in despair, complaining, grumbling, slaves to their circumstance, chained to the stories in their heads that said they were brick-making machines – proving that it is always much easier to get us out of Egypt than to get the Egypt out of us.
What stories are we helping to create (for others, for ourselves) with the words we use?
Our words can tear down, or they can build. Our words can kill, or they can give life.
The Scriptures ask us to Choose Life.
What would it look like if we did?