Sticks and stones may break my bones but words . . .
Have you ever thought about the effect your words have on people? I was entering an event venue at the invitation of an acquaintance. When entering, I saw this person and was greeted warmly but with the look that says ‘I know I should know you but’, you know the one, right? It did not bother me in the slightest. Reflecting, however, on our original meeting and invitation, I expected a different response. Though some time has passed and life gets busy, what was clear is that her words had impacted me more than our original meeting had impacted her. Again, I was not hurt or disappointed, it just struck me how causally we use words. We speak and communicate but we are never certain how those words impact or influence the receiver. There is a children’s song that has as a verse,
‘O be careful little mouth what you say . . . for the Father up above is looking down with love, O be careful little mouth what you say.’
What we say even in a small group setting impacts and influences others, either negatively or positively. We judge something simple like appearances and comment even jokingly, and these seemingly benign words are received and have consequences. We talk about others, even in Christian circles and even if the person is not present, the hearers of those words forms opinions and thoughts. These thoughts inform behavior and attitudes toward others. Interestingly, when judging another, we typically attribute their deficiencies to character flaws, but when we judge ourselves we attribute those flaws to circumstances. We judge with incomplete information. We do not know everything, or why choices were made. We assume, but we do not know what we do not know. What would happen, especially in Christian circles, where the world is certainly listening and observing, if we guarded our words with as much care as we guard our money or our children.
John 13:35 says that all people will know we are followers of Jesus Christ when they observe how we love one another.
Not by how much we give, or stand in opposition to issues and not even how we love the world. The world will know that we follow Christ by how we demonstrate love within our Christian community towards one another. Jesus says in John 12:32 ‘If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.’ The process seems to be we love in community, lifting up Christ by word and deeds and Jesus will draw men to him. People will come to know him. Words matter whether the person being talked about is present or not. Words impact and influence. I have done my share of damage in this area, but by the grace of God through this insignificant reunion with an acquaintance, I will be careful what I say.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words have lasting consequences that can destroy.