“You’ll end up in jail just like your father.”
This week my freshmen and I talked about the power of words for both good and evil, and I asked them to respond to the quote, “Words break no bones, but they do break hearts.” And, let me tell you, there are some 15 year olds out there with broken hearts.
I expected my kids to have some experience with word-wounds, but I had not anticipated the depth of what they would share. They wrote of parents constantly belittling them and peers teasing mercilessly. They wrote of hearing that they are good for nothing and have no hope for a bright future. They wrote of words they had said themselves and regretted instantly…
They wrote, and my heart ached.
I remember being their age and in their shoes, and I remember words from those days. I remember words and looks and rebuffs and sideways glances, and I remember the tears I shed. But even now, decades removed, I am hurt by those very same things. Your heart doesn’t have to be young to be tender, and you don’t have to be in school to be rejected. We all know the power that others can have over us.
We know their power, but we forget ours.
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).
Every word we utter will yield some sort of power – will show some sort of fruit – and whether it is positive or negative, bitter or sweet, is completely dependent on us. We get to choose.
I so badly want for my students to hear uplifting and encouraging words, but I also need for them to understand that regardless of what they hear, they are responsible for what they speak. I want that for all of us, actually.
Without a renewal of my mind and a prayer for the Holy Spirit to tame my tongue, I will wield a weapon every time I open my mouth. We each know the conditions that make us vulnerable to the torch of the tongue. For me, it’s being tired and stretched too thin, but we must also know that we are without excuse because we have been told that it is an issue of life and death. We cannot take what we say lightly. Others are standing at the ends of our words, and their lives may depend on the way we speak to them. We can cause permanent damage and inflict never-forgotten pain, or we can build up and encourage.