I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on her face. As soon as the words rushed out of my mouth, I regretted saying them, but they tumbled out faster than I could pull them back. Once they were out there, the damage was done.
We were eleven years old that summer at church camp, and for the first time in my life, the “cool” girls were paying attention to me. Wanting to make myself more acceptable to them, I tried to distance myself from my closest friend. And when the line was drawn in the sand, I outright denied our friendship right to her face.
Even though we eventually reconciled, and she graciously forgave me, the shame of that moment still burns whenever it comes to mind. More than twenty-five years later, I still feel awful for the words I said.
I’m constantly in awe of the power of words. They can bring life and love and joy and peace. They can also bring utter destruction in a matter of seconds. “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words will never hurt”? I beg to differ.
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21 NIV).
If I asked you to remember a time in your life when you said something you regret, I bet it wouldn’t be too difficult to think of several times. I’m also willing to wager you’ve had at least a handful of hurtful things said to you over the years.
Without even thinking hard, I can recall five or six times when someone’s words left scars on my heart. Starting as early as elementary school, “thunder thighs,” “bucktooth,” and “brat” were burned in my brain. Later came “ugly,” “loser,” and “fat.” With God’s grace, the work of forgiveness has been done. Even though the wounds have healed, the scars remain, and I’m daily learning to recognize the effects they have on my life.
Healing from hurtful words takes so much more time and work than the wounding. I’ve heard it takes five positive comments to balance out just one negative comment. That ratio might seem overwhelming at first, but this is where we have an opportunity to bless one another.
We’re all walking around with hidden scars on our hearts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we committed to speaking life into those around us? You never know which positive comment might tip the scale for someone.
We can stand together as sisters and remind one another where we find our identity. We can replace words like failure, worthless, and replaceable with words like beloved, chosen, and masterpiece. Not because of who we are, but because of whose we are.
Luke 6:45 says, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (NIV). The eyes might be the windows to the soul, but the tongue is the window to the heart. Let’s make it a good view.
Ashley Doyle Pooser is a wife and a mom of three. She recently moved to Atlanta, where she’s trying her best to be a responsible adult but feels like she’s mostly flying by the seat of her pants. She blogs at ashleydoylepooser.com.
Photograph © Janko Ferlic, used with permission