Each morning, our small boarding school’s campus community assembles for announcements, a prayer, and a “good word” from various faculty, staff, and students as they share devotions. Wednesday devotions often come from our Director of Student Affairs, who shared the following last Wednesday.
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
In my humble opinion, that familiar saying is an absolute lie. Words can pierce down to our hearts and do more long-term damage than sticks or stones ever could. I have said things, even to people I love, which have sunk in deep…words that I will always regret: “Son, why did you do that? What’s wrong with you? …“Whatever, I don’t care, I’m done. I’m going to sleep.”
I also have had words said to me, even by people who love me, that have sunk in deep…words that I will never forget: “I hope you never have a job that’s stressful.” …“You don’t have what it takes.”
I’m sure you can think of words that have sunk down deep in you and left scars. Let me give you a simile about words that I think is more accurate than the sticks and stones thing:
“Words are like bullets in a gun – you pull that trigger and there’s no taking it back.”
The wounds can heal, but there’s always some level of scar left behind.
Words have power. They have not only the power to hurt, but the power to change people’s lives, and to sink down deep in a good way, giving us direction, encouragement, and love.
Sometimes the words are small, and simple: “Can you help me?” …“I really trust your advice.” …“What would I do without you?” …“You did a great job.” I’m sure you can think of words said to you that have sunk down deep and brightened your day, or even changed your life.
With that much power, our words should be chosen carefully – just like shooting a bullet.
And here’s the second facet about being mindful of our words: We need to admit when we mess up; when we say things that are hurtful! Sometimes we have to try to clean another’s wound from that bullet, and do our best to fix the damage.
At Oak Hill, we will hold you accountable for your words, and we will hold ourselves accountable for ours. The people we respect are usually also people of their word – people who use words carefully, and use them in positive ways.
I hear people using words casually, carelessly, and without thought. Instead, be intentional about your words. Be someone who means what they say, and uses their words to empathize, uplift, support.
There’s a verse in the Bible that I think of when it comes to words, and to be honest, it’s kind of scary to me: “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” What comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is inside our hearts. What do we say when we get angry; when we are frustrated? It’s so easy to say cheap, sharp, biting words – sometimes in our defense, we even call it “fun” or “entertainment.” Is it really “entertainment” to cut others down with our words?
I wonder – can people see what is in my heart by the words I use? I hope so, and I hope my words come from a heart full of love, kindness, gentleness and patience – not sarcasm, anger, criticism and hurt.
Look for opportunities to use words to heal, to encourage, and to show kindness. Sticks and stones can do temporary damage, but the tongue – our words – that is what really matters. Use this powerful tool carefully and thoughtfully, and others will see what is truly in our hearts.
Director of Student Affairs
Oak Hill Academy