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  • Writer's pictureKristen Cole

I Always Choose Sticks and Stones: Words Hurt


I can’t remember the first time I heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Usually accompanied by a “nanee nanee boo boo,” kids pick and sneer on the playground with these words. It wasn’t until more recently in my adult life that I realized just how much I don’t believe this.

A close friend of mine told me the sad story of how her first encounter with her child’s new classroom teacher went this year. She described entering the midterm parent/teacher conference, feeling only a slight hesitation this year. Her child has now had an IEP for over 2 years, its twists and turns, ups and downs, forks and splits being mostly ironed out at this point. Her child had a great year last year, so she thought this year was just a next step in his forward progress.

She described walking into that conference with confidence, as she had witnessed her child focusing on his homework much more easily than years past. He continued to struggle with handwriting, she described it as “chicken scratch” or “just like her husband’s”. The recommended keyboarding at home was a bust and the mentioned cursive coach in school never had materialized. But, she and her husband had decided to focus on other things, like continuing to encourage independent reading.

My friend described hearing the following “Your son is average, he is doing ok… He could use more practice reading and writing at home…His handwriting is abominable.”  She told me this story, with tears in her eyes, sharing her feelings of anger, sadness and disappointment. My friend had to bring up his strengths herself. She described feeling flustered after these comments, not being able to formulate thoughts or sentences. She went on to describe the teacher as cold, the teacher who stopped the meeting, walked my friend to the door and said something about her child progressing…that she couldn’t remember. She had totally shut down.

Because I can relate to the above story and because I connect with being hurt by words…I dug in. I dug in to only one of those words that teacher used: abominable.

Abominable is defined by all of the following more recognizable words: offensive; loathsome; detestable; very bad, unpleasant, inferior. No explanation can allow me to accept this word as a description of a sweet child…in anything. I reject it.

I found some antonyms of this word, abominable: delightful, good, pleasant, loveable, wonderful, honorable and worthy. Just WHO describes us in these words? Our Heavenly Father. I accept these.

In my bible study this week, I was encouraged to reflect on the inheritance we have in the Lord and the author of the bible study (Proverbs 31 Ministries) listed out the following spiritual blessings we have been given by the Lord. She reflected, pointing out from Scripture that we are loved, forgiven, redeemed, a new creation, holy, set apart, created with a purpose, God’s masterpiece, A temple of the Holy Spirit. In my words…we are worthy. We are the arch nemesis of the word abominable.

This story is only one example of just how deeply words can hurt. Abominable. That word as a descriptor stabs deeper and more painfully than any wound of the flesh. James 3:3-5 (The Message), says, “A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!”

Broken bones do heal with special care and time, their memory more distant as time marches on. The pain associated most often wanes and one has a hard time remembering its sting. But, harsh words one speaks or even writes have the potential to haunt. They are powerful. They are lingering. The can startle in the middle of the night and taunt their prey. They can echo in the depths of souls and sometimes those souls believe them. Hurtful words are kindling for Satan’s fire, all he needs to get a foothold of the mind.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

Let these things, fill our children’s minds…and our minds…for it is true that we are worthy of the love of the greatest King ever to live on this earth. And, he put abominable things to death for us, so that we could live redeemed. And worthy.

And just how often do you tell someone that they are worthy?

I walked into the conference with my graduate student this fall. She was timid, head down, glancing up at me, her evaluator, the one she expected to be her critic. I was the teacher in this encounter. I had the chance to use my small rudder, my tiny 3 hour block in this woman’s lifetime, to change her course. I looked at her, into her blue prepared and frightened eyes, and I said, “You are living out a calling here, I want you to believe that you are good at what you do, you have a gift to share and I am thankful to witness it.” My student began to cry. She told me that no other instructor had ever been that kind to her. She collected herself, the muscles in her forehead and cheeks relaxed and her whole being breathed. She listened as I spoke truth into her life and her practice as a student. She thanked me, she hugged me and she walked away with her head held a little higher, dare I say, feeling…a little bit more worthy…

We are all teachers in some way. We are teachers of children, of adults, of those we enjoy being around and of those we find difficult. Teachers have a great power and responsibility in this life. In fact, James 3:1-2 says this: “Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.”

Knowing that we are not perfect is the first step in teaching. We will all make mistakes, but let our mistakes not be powerful words that hurt, slice and destroy. The tongue is a very hard thing to tame, but when reflecting about the depth of pain its language can inflict, let us bite that tongue. Let us stop and recite another old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Let us stop and realize that every person has something that makes them worthy…something that makes them loved, forgiven, redeemed, a new creation, holy, set apart, created with a purpose, God’s masterpiece, A temple of the Holy Spirit.

Let us take that extra second to tell someone…like I am telling you right now…that you are worthy. Amen.

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