One of the greatest lies of childhood is “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” As someone who has been hit by sticks and stones and who has experienced more than my share of orthopedic injuries, I testify to the truth that physical pain is quickly forgotten but emotional pain hurts for a lifetime.
My parents were insensitive to the emotions of a child and insults and criticism were common. As a child I was significantly pigeon-toed, and my parents thought calling me spastic and a klutz was funny. It wasn’t. Even less funny was what they said to my brothers when they were absent minded or clumsy, “You really pulled a Bart that time!”
Even now as I write these words some of the pain returns. I feel the rush of insecurity and fear, and the hurt in my chest that characterized my childhood. I wish I could say that the wounds have fully healed but I can’t. The wounds seem to have healed only superficially as any even mildly hurtful words can cause me significant emotional setback.
So deeply ingrained is the pain that it consumes my memories and is the focus of my recollections. When I review my life it is the hurts and failures that first come to mind, those times when my actions were clumsy, when I stumbled in my words, or when someone whose love and respect I sought responded with criticism or disdain.
I wish I could say that my experiences have worked to make me more sensitive and understanding than others and that people who come in contact with me have walked away feeling particularly loved and cared for. I wish I could say this, but I can’t. My defensiveness and hurts have caused me to often focus on self protection, self defense and self preservation. This inward focus has often times resulted in me hurting others.
It has taken years (combined with medications and counseling) for my heart to soften and my perspective to begin to turn outward. Only now at the age of 53 do I feel that I am beginning to understand how much damage my own words have done over the years.
I am reminded of the admonition of James, the brother of Jesus Christ, in his letter to the church. In the third chapter he wrote-
“Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!"
Words hurt. Here is praying we will learn to use them carefully, wisely and with kindness.
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