Words of Worth

Sticks and Stones and Words That Hurt

February 11, 2011

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me” (African Proverb)

“Reckless words pierce like a sword …”
(Proverbs 12: 18)

When I was five years old and mastering a two wheeler, I had a serious encounter with a crack in the sidewalk and a wobbly front wheel, which sent me sailing over the front handle bars of my bike onto a rock in some neighbor’s lawn. The end result was a concussion and the family doctor telling me, “You are one lucky young lady. If you had landed on your head just a little further to the left you would have most likely died.” No matter how hard I try, all these years later, I cannot drum up the physical pain of that accident, but I can still remember the frightening words of that doctor and the look on his face when he scared me with his words.

Thinking back, I can also recall many mean spirited taunts launched at the bus stop or on a recess playground – “You’re stupid, fat or ugly.” And sometimes, even adults got into the act -“You’ll never amount to much.” Ouch, ouch and ouch! But around that same age of novice bicycling and mean spirited taunts, I can remember chanting, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” What a lie I believed each time I sang that mantra. The truth was, and still is, that while sticks and stones may break many bones, an unkind word can also break a spirit and scar a heart.

We’ve all been broken by the words of others and we’ve all wounded someone else with our words whether it was intentional or not. How many times have we heard ourselves say something we immediately wished we hadn’t, or heard other people’s words and winced at the impact? Words matter. Words convey meaning. Words remain long after the details of the conversation fade into the shadows of our minds.

James 3: 5-6 (NIV) compares the tongue to a “small spark” that can set a great forest on fire. Our words have the devastating power of fire—our words can ruin the world, turn harmony into chaos, throw mud on a reputation, or send the whole world and ourselves up in smoke! Wars have been ignited, friendships have been irreparably damaged, and marriages have been run off course by fiery words that leave in its wake the devastation of wounded hearts.

Sticks and stones will break my bones…and so will words. The difference, though, is that bones broken by sticks and stones will often heal much quicker than hearts broken by words. (SV)

Looking for more words? Why not read James 3: 1-10?

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