I’ve hurt people with words.
People have hurt me with words.
I’ve built people up with words.
People have built me up with words.
I wish I could claim just the second set of statements. I wish that words in my life were used for the sole purpose of encouraging and bringing others closer to Christ. I wish. I wish. I wish.
Words stick, and unfortunately it’s sometimes easier to remember one hurtful word, than several encouraging sentences. Why do we say things we don’t mean, and why do we tear down the people we care about the most?
“Words kill or words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.” -Proverbs 18:21 (MSG)
In a recent message at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, Jon Weece spoke about the power of words. He mentioned the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” Pressure, he explained, can cause us to use our words to hurt people instead of helping them. Prior to sharing this message, he asked a question on Facebook and received a mass outpour of responses, making it one of his top posts. This is what he asked: “What hurtful thing has been said to you that you struggle to forget or forgive?”
He listed off several responses that his friends had made, which lead me to think about my own. While I was thinking, I heard the still, small whisper, What hurtful things have you said that someone may struggle to forget or forgive? I prayed that God would bring moments to mind, or flaws in my character that allow me to say something cruel to someone else.
Sticking with me for several weeks now, I highly recommend you take a moment to watch this message. It has the power to change your life.
What hurtful things have you said that someone may struggle to forget or forgive?
A short while ago, a couple of friends and I visited a local pub that we used to frequent several years back. We celebrated reconnecting with a spontaneous shot of tequila, followed by a round of beers. As the alcohol created the buzz sensation, I allowed words to freely flow. It wasn’t until the buzz faded that I realized I was not being the woman God created me to be. I found myself using sarcasm to show off and seek attention. Listening to respond, I found myself not being the friend I’d worked so hard to be. I remember “joking” with my friends and saying they were my second choice, as I had planned to be hanging out primarily with another friend that night. I didn’t mean it of course, but I did say it. Words stick.
“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” -Ephesians 5:4 (NIV)
Allowing myself a free night to curse, I noticed it was fun in the moment to say words I shouldn’t. However, I found myself flashing back to the most difficult life-taking moments in my life, not the life-giving ones. Curse words didn’t add to our conversations, but stole from them. They didn’t build me up inside, instead they were slowly tearing me down.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” -James 1:19-20 (NIV)
It is very difficult for me to simply listen and not respond, when people share hurtful words. The other day, a customer looked me straight in the eye and said, “Are you just fat like me, or are you (she motioned a pregnant belly)?” I tried my best to smile kindly, as I responded, “Not pregnant.” All the joy that I had experienced moments ago realizing I had lost two pounds that week, swiftly disappeared. Confidence fled leaving space for insecurity. My insecurity began to frantically seek security. Hurt people hurt people.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” -Proverbs 15:1 (ESV)
With added attentiveness to my words, I’ve found myself apologizing a lot lately. As clay being molded for my next adventure, I’m feeling hard-pressed on all sides. Everyone seems to have an opinion or a helpful idea for my move, which in respect is very wonderful. However when they all happen at once, it can be incredibly overwhelming for me. I am thankful for all the people that God has provided that are willing to help; I wouldn’t be this far down the road without them. Nevertheless, I’ve said words in the “struck down” moments that didn’t build my team up. Working on breathing first and speaking second, I’m hoping in the future I’ll be able to say “Thank you,” more and “I’m sorry,” less. Words help or words hurt.
Clearly God is showing me the weight words carry. I’ve said hurtful words and I’ve been hurt by words. Awakening a desire to develop the character of the tongue, I’m prayerfully trying to be more intentional about thinking before I speak. If my thoughts were spoken, would they help or hurt? What effect are my words having on the people I encounter? How would I feel if someone said that to me?
Are words we think and say:
- Building our friends up, or tearing them down?
- Building our family up, or tearing them down?
- Building our coworkers up, or tearing them down?
- Building the waiter or waitress up, or tearing them down?
- Building up the folks in the car that just cut us off, or tearing them down?
- Building our pastors up, or tearing them down?
Are my words building myself up, or tearing me down?
The other night, God blessed me with a beautiful opportunity. Listening to the students at WorkFest recount their weeks of service through the Christian Appalachian Project’s (CAP) alternative spring break program, I felt, in remembrance, the beautiful spirit of this organization for whom I once volunteered and am now an employee. My involvement in WorkFest has varied throughout the years, and as of lately includes simply sharing in a few suppers to reconnect with alumni and meet some of the students. After listening to the incredibly touching stories of the crews’ experiences and the families touched by their presence and service, I felt it. The overwhelming spirit of love, joy and service that has connected me to CAP for five and a half years. Only in this organization have I found such an abundance of beautiful souls.
I had planned on just observing that night, soaking in all the goodness of the words that created stories; stories that would change the lives of friends and family back home. However, their stories changed me too. Listening to a participant’s family tearfully share their gratitude for the college students who spent their spring break making their home a safer and warmer place to live, I teared up in unison feeling the difference people in this organization make. Using their hands to build up home, these students invested in service; using their words, they built up a family.
After all the crews shared the stories of their week, and the participants headed home, the staff allowed anyone to come and share their testimony from the week. Many of the alumni crew leaders (who spent the week sharing their knowledge of construction and leading the students on each worksite) shared how these weeks of WorkFest make a difference in the lives of the participants, and in their own lives. A leader from one of the college groups shared how this life-changing week impacted the world. Breaking out of their shells, students shared about the community they had built and how they would live differently after this experience. Meanwhile, my heart was pounding, and my hands were shaking.
I always know what that means. God’s giving me an opportunity to be a part of His plan. The pounding and shaking ceases and intensifies as I try ignore it.
But God, I’m not a part of WorkFest this year. I’m just visiting. These people, don’t even know me…
(I have something to say through you.)
I’m bad at public-speaking…
(You trust me to move across country, but you don’t trust that I’ll give you the words to share?)
You can use someone else. See that crew leader just said things I thought I would say, about making a difference. You used him instead! Thank you.
I experienced peace for a moment as I listened to another testimony. Then my heartbeat revved again. Lub-dub, lub-dub, LUB-DUB, LUB-DUB. Pulling my left hand apart from where it was grasping my right, I noticed it was only moderately shaking. Remembering my Lenten fast of choosing to obey what God asks of me, I plead again:
Will you at least give me an idea of what to say. So I don’t stand up and look like a mega-fool who also doesn’t belong?!
But what right do I have to share? I’m not a part of WorkFest.
(Your story matters. You have something to share.)
Then I felt it, and I knew what God needed to say through me was important. Feeling all the CAP-feels that night, I hoped to help everyone become aware of the beautiful spirit that hung in the room. This spirit of love and service could only be found here in Kentucky, serving with the Christian Appalachian Project. Everyone who comes to volunteer becomes a part of this beautiful selfless love, this forever family. Those are the words I knew I needed to share.
Awkward, yet confident in Christ, I stood up and walked what seemed like the long distance across the gymnasium floor and I picked up the mic. Surprisingly so, I felt peaceful as I shared my gratitude for the students’ service, stories and their words. Because words matter. Their words, service and passion matter. I threw in my typical spiel of encouraging those thinking of volunteering for a year or more, to do so, and with that I had completed my task. God had shared the CAP story He built within me through me and when I was finished I couldn’t even remember what I said. It almost made me want to do it again. Perhaps next time, I won’t be so hesitant to obey.
My words matter.
Your words matter.
Just as easily as God revealed areas in my life that I need to work on and improve, He also gave me the gift of words that create, inspire and love. As a writer, words are key to survival. As humans, words will either make or break us. As Christians, the Word is the gateway to Life. What will words do for you?