“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
We’ve all heard this children’s rhyme before. Sure, we might be physically harmed by a stick or a stone, but words could never damage us, right? Sayings like this one assume that the best thing to do is to just ignore insults–after all, they don’t physically hurt you like a sucker-punch would.
I think it is safe to say that we all know the “sticks and stones” adage is misleading at best, and downright false at worse. Yes, speaking a word do not literally cause physical harm, but we all know that words impact our life. Words can hurt deeply. Words can absolutely tear us down. Words can actually drive someone to do terrible things. Even though words don’t exactly have the same physical consequences as being struck by a stick or stone, words matter greatly in our lives.
Psychologist John Gottman noticed this in his research on relationships. Perhaps you’ve heard of his “5 to 1 ratio” for life. He argues that for every one negative comment or action, someone needs at least five positive comments or actions to counteract it. In other words, if you criticize your spouse 10 times in one day, theoretically, you would need over 50 positive interactions to “fix” that rift in the relationship. Negative words and actions have a greater potential for harm than positive words and actions have for good.
Another psychologist, Douglas Fields, once wrote that: “The environment that children are raised in molds not only their mind, but also their brain. This is something many long suspected, but now we have scientific instruments that show us how dramatically childhood experience alters the physical structure of the brain, and how sensitive we are as children to these environmental effects. Words–verbal harassment–from peers (and, as a previous study from these researchers showed, verbal abuse from a child’s parents) can cause far more than emotional harm.” Demeaning or putting someone down can stick with that individual for years in the future, causing all sorts of problems with emotional and social wellbeing.
On Sunday we explored the power of words, particularly when Elisha was insulted in 2 Kings 2. This sometimes comical, sometimes terrifying story teaches us that ignoring God’s guidance will ultimately lead to destruction. Insulting and attacking other people can have drastic consequences. We talked about Elisha calling out the she-bears could be interpreted as a parable of warning to all people–don’t be like the city of Bethel, because if you abandon God’s law, its like being attacked by two angry momma bears!
The words that we hear spoken to us can have lasting consequences. Chose your words wisely, and remember to always speak in a manner that reflects God’s kingdom. Here are some bible verses that can remind us about who we truly are in God’s family. Keep this in mind as you speak words of life to others.
- You are a child of God. John 1:12 says, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”
- You are accepted. Romans 15:7 reminds us, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
- You are known by God. Jeremiah 1:5a tells us, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”
- You are chosen by God. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “but you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
- You are complete with God. Colossians 2:10 promises us, “And you are complete in Jesus, who is the head of all principality and power.”