Hurtful Words

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.Proverbs 18:21

I once was privy to a conversation that went something like this….

“What’s your problem fatty?”

speak no evil

“Nothin. And I can do something about my

weight, you can’t do anything about your ugly face….”

Great comeback, right?! At the time I heard it, I was in high school and thought so. I thought, that’s awesome, you show her….and, I wish I was that quick.

And, once upon a time Cody was an awkward, chubby, self-conscious teenager who was insanely jealous of the attention all her pretty friends got from the boys at school. She was a good student and hid her embarrassment and loneliness in books and straight As. Social situations were painful. She once walked out a lunch line she had been waiting in for 15 minutes because the cute boy behind her (she had been crushing on for six months) tapped her on the shoulder and said hi. What does this have to do with anything? Well, I, like the girl above developed defense mechanisms. I honed my sarcasm and biting condescension to a two-edged sword (allusion intended).If you knew me in high school, and you read this, I apologize if any of this was ever directed at you. Looking back I can sadly acknowledge that my comments of  “I can’t stand stupid people….” and insinuations toward others’ character and intelligence were critical and sinful. This is my public apology.

Now, fast forward seven years and as a  somewhat matured adult I have found myself aching inside as I have encountered this phenomenon of hurtful speech again and again. Being a high school teacher, sadly much of what I hear is between my students. Daily I am experiencing the horribly hateful ways students can hurt each other…. and finding myself torn as the bullied children defend themselves. I am saddened that they have to stoop to that level, but glad for them that they earn a reprieve. I encountered an entire class collectively take a trash can and set it next to one particular student. Every insinuation you can imagine was intended. I cried that day when the kids left.

And as teachers, adults, are we setting a better example? Unfortunately, no. I have been deeply saddened the last month by the number of times I have dealt with my coworkers experiencing the same cruelty from other coworkers that we would expect from children…not adults. Sarcasm, low blows, out-right hate speech…. all from so-called professionals.  And these are people I respect, admire and call friends. But in moments, we become….not Christ-like. And when I hear how these types of things are happening to friends I care about….and most recently my family…. all I can think is, Something has to give….!

What drives us to be cruel? What part of that sinful nature lashes out and motivates us to express ourselves in a way that causes others pain?  James 3:8 says, But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. So if we cannot do it by human strength, how do we go about tempering our speech and lessening the negative impact of what we say?

Proverbs says, Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. I had to learn this the hard way, but I finally found that if I genuinely counted to ten, or instantly prayed for self-control I could lessen the blow that was fixing to come out of my mouth.

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul very clearly tells us that if what we say is not beneficial or for the purpose of edification, we should not say it (Eph. 4:29). I recently had an argument with Nathan and was proud of myself for replying by saying, I am upset, but nothing I want to say would be helpful or constructive so I will refrain from saying it. However a few weeks later, I failed miserably by being so harsh he chose not to drive to work with me in the morning. I’m trying but I don’t always succeed.

I am concerned. My heart has dwelt on this for just long enough for me to “say” something.  Friends, let’s do better.

In the same way that our words can tear down, they can build up.

Proverbs 12:18, There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 15:1, A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

And I know that in my humanity it is not always within my power to be wise, or gentle. However, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13), and if I but humble myself and confess [my] sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us [my] sins and purify [me] from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

So Lord, help us to remember the power of our words. We can choose to bless or curse. When angered, or annoyed help me Lord to choose to deflect a spirit of discord and call out with my mouth for your help.

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

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