Pastor Scott Hannon
St. John Lutheran Church Amherst, NY
My daughter came home from her first week of school chanting that phrase they taught us all as kids. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me! And all I could think as I watched this innocent kid defiantly not giving other people the power to hurt her was: yeah, right. And I got sort of sad – for her, for me, for you, for us all – as I reflected on how hurtful some words can be.
See, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words… can harm a friendship. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words… can end a marriage. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words… can break our spirit. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words… can hurt forever.
We tell our children that words will never hurt us, but that’s not true. Words have the power to hurt. Words can be wielded as weapons. Words can be put together in ways that break down and beat down. Bullies use words to degrade others. Politicians use words to slander others. Racists and sexists use words to shame others. Words (or the lack thereof) are the weapon of choice for those wishing to inflict immediate and lasting pain on others. Sticks and stones my break our bones, but words can have a devastating and painful affect on our relationships, emotions, thoughts, and lives.
We are not doing ourselves any favors when we pretend like words don’t have power. Unfortunately, that is often what we do. People make false promises with no intention of living them out and we don’t really seem to care. Our president frequently lies and contradicts himself and it doesn’t seem to matter. Our neighbors or, in some cases, our own family members use racial slurs and no one corrects them. We lob wordy grenades at one another through email, twitter, and facebook without repercussion. Rumors are rampant. Gossip is assumed. Defamation is accepted. At what point will we learn that words can hurt?
James writes in his epistle, “The tongue is a fire… From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” (James 3:1–12)
That words can hurt ought not to be so. It ought not to be so that the mouths that praise God and declare love also manipulate people and declare hate. It ought not to be so that words, which could build up, be used to break down. It ought not to be so that words, which are a gift, be used as a weapon. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
My lesson to my daughter that day is my advice to you. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can build a friendship, mend a marriage, encourage our spirits, and bless others forever. Words can heal. Words can provide hope. Words can instruct, guide, uplift, and repair. May the words you speak line up with the words you long to hear. And when you hear a good word from another may you be quick to share a message of love with a friend in need. Lord knows, at this point in time, that is what we all need to hear.
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.