It's been a few years, but I still remember the look of pain in my daughter's eyes. She came home from first grade in a bit of a funk. When I asked what was wrong, she explained that some kids at school had called her a name.
Instantly, I felt my inner "Mama Bear" awaken. WHAT?!?!
Defying every impulse I had to call the school and chew someone, anyone, out for letting some second-grade hooligans hurt my baby, I calmly asked, "What did they say?"
Her eyes filled with pain.
"I can't tell you. It's a bad word." There it was again...Mama Bear Rising. It took a few minutes longer this time, but I managed to control my it.
She reluctantly agreed to whisper the offensive word in my ear. She leaned close and whispered a word that is simply not allowed in our home..."Stupid." Then I saw tears fill her gorgeous brown eyes.
I held her close and assured her she is not stupid. I don't think she's stupid. Daddy doesn't think she's stupid. Most importantly, Jesus, who created her, absolutely does not think she's stupid.
"Do you think you're stupid?" I asked. She shook her head. "Then it doesn't matter what anyone else says, does it?" The waterworks came then.
"But it still hurts!" she cried.
And she was right. The old playground saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," is quite simply a lie.
Words do hurt. Whether they're simply said without thinking, for a good laugh, or out of raw emotion in the heat of an argument. Once they're said, they can never be taken back. They can be repented of, even apologized for, but never taken back.
Kids are notorious for being outspoken, a little clueless, and sometimes rude. They are, after all, kids. They are also remarkably resilient. It didn't take long for Little Miss to bounce back and dive, carefree, into her latest art project. But those words will stay with her for a long time. The next time she is called something unkind (and let's be honest, it will happen), it will hurt a little more, because hateful words have already left a tiny wound.
I'd like to think that, as adults, we know better. We know to think before we speak and weigh carefully our words. But if my life is any indication I'd have to say that's not always the case.
Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. (Proverbs 18:21, The Message)
That tells me that (1) my words have the power to bring life to someone or bring death to their spirit, and (2) that I have the power to choose.
If words can bring life or death, we should at least consider the power in them before we let them tumble out of our mouths. If I held a high-powered weapon, capable of killing with a single shot, I wouldn't wave it around or shoot it off aimlessly. You'd better believe I'd be extremely careful in how I held it, carried it, and transported it. I'd refrain from using it, except when absolutely necessary.
Maybe that's what the writer of Proverbs meant when he said:
Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief. (21:23)
Careful words make for a careful life; careless talk may ruin everything. (13:3)
Observe the people who always talk before they think—even simpletons are better off than they are. (29:20)
Knowledge flows like spring water from the wise; fools are leaky faucets, dripping nonsense.(15:2)
The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words. (10:19)
For me, it's a daily struggle, and it's worse when I'm tired, stressed out, or overwhelmed. (Who isn't all of those things most of the time?). But I keep at it. Why? Because I want my children to realize the power of their words.
I want them to understand that they possess great power in their words. And with that power comes great responsibility. 😉 Their words can bring life or bring death. They should be chosen carefully...used wisely.
Maybe our grandmas had it right after all... "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all!"
Let your conversation be always full of grace... (Colossians 4:6)
How do you strive to #BeIntentional with your words? Share your ideas in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.
More great reading to help you #BeInentional with Your Words:
The Words We Say
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