“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
I remember hearing that line being quoted in the school playground in response to name-calling and thinking, even as a child, that it was completely untrue. Words do hurt.
The words we speak, and those that are spoken to us, have enormous power: to build up or to tear down, to encourage or to dishearten, to birth hope or to destroy it- in fact the Bible says, “The tongue can bring life or death…” (Proverbs 18:21 NLT)
I want to focus on the positive today because I think most of us know too well the effect that negative words can have. Studies seem to agree that we much more readily remember insults than compliments and that it takes several positive statements to balance the emotional impact of one negative one.
However there is good news: “Some people make cutting remarks but the words of the wise bring healing.” (Proverbs 12:18 NLT)
Words can bring death- to confidence, to hope, to a sense of worth- but they can also bring life!
I want to be someone who speaks words of healing, who builds others up, whose words bring hope to others, because I have experienced for myself how powerful that can be.
Words of encouragement or validation can be life-giving, letting a person know they’re valued and appreciated.
Another type of life-giving word is speaking out the potential in someone- like God addressing Gideon as “Mighty Hero” while he is cowering at the bottom of a winepress, or Jesus renaming the rough and ready fisherman Peter, the rock on which he would build his church- seeing people not just as they are but as they could be.
When I was in school I dreaded public speaking. Giving a talk in English was my worst nightmare. My heart would be pounding as I stood up, blushing furiously, and read my talk as quickly as humanly possible, never once raising my eyes from the piece of paper in front of me.
I was doing fairly well in English but my inability to speak in public was bringing my whole grade down. As we got ready for the final assessment that would count towards our overall mark my teacher gave me some advice- “Speak on something you feel passionate about.”
So I did. I spoke about music and its power to communicate where words could not (risky choice for an English exam, but I never considered that at the time 🙂 ) and my talk was okay. The presentation still left a lot to be desired and I still hated every second of it but it was enough to pass. At the end of the lesson the teacher came over and said to me, “One day you’ll stand up and speak and people will listen.”
It was a strange remark to make and at the time I was pretty sure it would never happen. I planned never to have to speak in public ever again.
Somehow those words stuck with me though.
And, several years later, being given the chance to share about Jesus with a group of young people, my desire to do that finally overtook my fear of public speaking and I stood up and spoke and they listened.
Now public speaking is something I will happily do, and often even enjoy! I sometimes wonder about my English teacher and the words she spoke. What did she see in me that day that caused her to make that statement? All I know is that she spoke life and somewhere within me sparked the belief that I could do something I’d never have imagined.
The more I see the power of words, the more I want to be intentional about speaking words of life to others. Saying thank you, giving a compliment, uttering a simple “me too”: they don’t take much effort, but their power is significant.
“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT)