What was the kindest thing someone has ever said to you? Did it sink deep inside you and has stayed with you all these years? Some of the sweetest, most sincere, and empowering things said to me have stayed in my heart since I was very little and at this point, I don’t think its significance in my life will ever fade. Words are powerful. They can last a lifetime. Examining my own life, my own heart, and even looking outside of me at the hearts of others, it’s easy to recognize how words can shape a person.
I suppose I never quite put too much thought into my words when I was young. Yes, I grew up in a devout Catholic family, so speaking kindly was valued and became habitual. If one was to speak out cruelly or selfishly, it was immediately nipped in the bud. Name calling was absolutely not tolerated. We learned self-control early on and to intentionally love through our words instead of allowing our feelings to manipulate how we communicated with someone. I am so grateful that while I was young my parents were striving to guide our words, instill in us the importance of speaking love to others, and to teach us to be humble enough to offer an apology if ever we slipped up and said something to our brothers and sisters that was uncharitable. We were learning to love through our words ever since we learned to talk.
As I grew older and began to develop my own way of thinking, I found even more value in this necessity within relationships and the power of words to be crucial in the development of one’s well-being. We all have been cut deep by the words someone has attacked us with or shared about us with others. We all have felt the painful blade of a double-edged sword pierce our self-worth when someone we love has failed to love us through their words. We each could recite the most painful words someone has cut us down with and left us scarred and hurting. It’s a mean world and people savagely throw spears whenever they’re angry, envious, upset, annoyed, impatient, inconvenienced, and even wounded and hurting themselves. The most heart wrenching part about it, is that it is done most brutally in secret to those we love the most.
People may verbally abuse to control someone, manipulate, guilt trip, project their own faults, vent, get another to listen, to back off, or perhaps it is their very twisted cry for help. Oftentimes, it’s a very skewed learned behavior. They do to others what has been done to them. They hurt others how they have been hurt. They aren’t empathetic with others because no one was empathetic with them. They are unforgiving toward others because nobody was forgiving toward them. They don’t have confidence in others because nobody had confidence in them. They neglect others because they were neglected. They abuse others because they were abused. They fail to love others because they were not loved. Also, they punish others how they have been punished and/or internally punish themselves. We all long to be understood, validated, and cherished. The battlefield can turn disgustingly gruesome with the words thrown between loved ones when they do not feel understood, validated, and cherished. While these words can be forgiven, it can take a lifetime to heal from them. Words burn bridges.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Some of us have been able to grow a thick skin through our hurtful relationships and now manage to deflect nastiness directed toward us by family, friends, strangers, or some random rude person in the checkout line. The cold looks, steely eyes, passive aggressiveness, backhanded compliments, insults, exasperation, cruel jokes, name-calling, sneers, shaming, sarcasm, mocking laughs, belittling, and the volume spoken through silent treatments and cold shoulders have overtime taught some of us to grow a thick skin so that we no longer can be wounded. We even can grow desensitized to people’s degrading comments if we’re with them long enough, but just have learned to lock up our heart tight enough so that they can no longer have access to it.
(WARNING: If one experiences this sort of abuse within one's own family it can lead to one falling into abusive relationships outside the family. If one is used to being attacked so much, they may lose sense of self-respect, boundaries, and what is acceptable and what isn’t. It’s what they have known for so long, so acceptance of the mistreatment comes pretty easily. Red flags of abusive behavior in outside relationships do not come across as reason to leave, but familiarity).
"Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips."
Some people, to survive certain relationships in their life, build a type of boundary, which is tune out the viciousness of others as a defense mechanism so as to keep a peace of mind and healthy sense of self. If we don’t punch back, we’ll withdraw, avoid them, shrug off the attacks, ignore their attempts to get at us, or mentally check out and carry on with our day to not fall victim to one’s cruelness having any power over us. People learn to cope with the wickedness of others in all different ways. Nothing is black and white. We all grow thick skin in different ways, at different times, and with different people. It’s interesting how when you come across a person who is very tough, thick-skinned, and can walk through fire without getting burned, it is often because they have been so badly wounded in their past that this armour they carry was built out of survival and not from a deeply rooted, well-structured healthy base of self-worth, self-image, self-respect, nurturing, loving discipline, and kind relationships with healthy boundaries. It was through being abused and bullied into it. We must instead develop ourselves through God. We must anchor our selfhood in His unconditional love and strength. When one shields their sense of self by Him, they wear armour that arrows cannot pierce.
"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority."
Sadly, babies are not born with this understanding of strength. Babies are born fragile, vulnerable, innocent, dependent, and have not known what it is to be unloved. Growing a thick skin by the unloving behavior of others is something we often learn to do on our own by having been malnourished through the words or actions of others. It is through others failing to be faithful to God and to us through their communication. It is through others failing to communicate their love in a God-centered way. To grow intricately in tune with being made in the image and likeness of God, a crown of creation, and being more valuable than anything on this earth, we must be nourished and reminded of our birthright through those who surround us.
I believe it is essential to grow tough in this life, to be well-built, well-nourished, well-strengthened, thick-skinned in a healthy way (a strong sense of self), and to absolutely form healthy boundaries between yourself and the world, but to also have a very soft heart, a very compassionate one, and to always strive to practice empathy. Many confuse compassion with weakness, but I believe compassion is actually strength. So thick skin and soft heart all the way baby! You’ll do amazing things if you keep these two hand in hand.
"The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues."
When we fail to love others through our words we do not fully understand how wounding we can be. We may have not even grown in enough self-awareness or developed our conscience enough to differentiate what words (or lack of!) can be daggers to someone’s heart and what words can speak life into them. The littleness in our word choices can have the biggest effect on a person. It can influence how they view or feel about themselves, their psyche, their self-image, body-image, self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-understanding, self-development, core beliefs, thought process, their relationships, how they perceive others, how they feel about others, their outlook on life, the way they feel through the world, the way they learn, the way they listen, the way they read others, the way they learn to communicate with the world, etc. I could go on and on with all the powerful ways words can slowly shape someone’s mind, heart, and one’s physical interactions. We must grow in tune to the weight our words can carry within another person if we desire to nourish our relationships and grow in virtue.
"Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity."
Think about all the times someone close to you spoke so much evil into you with their words, their lack of words, their tone, their volume, their facial expressions, and their body language, enough times that it changed you. It hardened you. It may have broke you. Imagine how much good could have come out of speaking life into you. Imagine who you would have became. Imagine how much closer and more trusting the relationship could have been. Imagine your life.
"She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue."
Imagine how much more whole you could be if someone had encouraged you instead of cut you down, if someone had complimented you instead of insulted you, if someone had validated your thoughts instead of punishing you for them, if someone had believed you instead of labeling you as a liar, if someone had appreciated your efforts instead of scrutinizing them, if someone had cared for your feelings instead of neglecting them, if someone had affirmed your strengths instead of being fixated on your weaknesses, if someone had corrected your mistakes empathetically instead of attacking who you are, if someone had met your needs instead of abusing them, if someone had listened to your hurt instead of laughing or scoffing at it, if someone had listened to understand you and not to use it as ammunition against you, if someone had respected your privacy and not exploited you, if someone had hugged you when you cried in pain instead of verbally beating you to the point you couldn’t breathe, if someone had apologized for taking something out on you instead of blaming you for the way they felt, if someone let you be you instead of guilting and shaming you into becoming more like them, if someone let you speak your truth instead of silencing and demeaning you, if someone had asked what was wrong instead of assuming the worst of you...IMAGINE!
Imagine if someone had affirmed you, validated you, built you up, rejoiced in your differences, admired your own mind, nurtured you, helped you, believed in you, knew you, nourished you, understood you, listened to you, consoled you, trusted you, and shed light on all your amazing gifts, qualities, strengths, and what beautifully makes no one else like you… just IMAGINE how at peace, how joyful, how secure, how stable, how confident, how loving, how gentle, how strong, how merciful, how compassionate, and how gracious you would be toward yourself and toward others if others had not abused your relationship and wounded you to the core till you felt like there was nothing left of you. They chewed you up and spat you out. Imagine if they hadn’t. Just imagine.
"The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."
Break the chain of abusive life patterns. You are incredibly powerful. You are incredibly gifted. You are incredibly different than any other human being that has abused you to the point of having no sense of self, no concept of self-worth, and no clue what self-respect actually means. Break the chain. Put a STOP to the cruel pattern of learned behavior and repeating to others what has been done to you. SAY NO. Break the chain. You are enough just the way you are. You are validated in the eyes of God just the way you are. You are loved just the way you are. Break the chain. You are strong just the way you are. You are smart just the way you are. You are beautiful just the way you are. Break the chain. Rise from victimization and become not only a victor in your own life, but in the lives of others. Give every beaten, bloody, and broken piece of your heart to God to make it whole. Ask Him to transform it into one that pours love into others, that pours healing into others, that pours compassion into others, that pours forgiveness into others, that pours tenderness into others, that pours strength into others, that pours respect into others, that pours patience into others, that pours affirmations into others, that pours trust into others, that pours gentleness into others, that pours wisdom into others, that pours validation into others, and pours reasons upon reasons into others to love who they are and to anchor their identity in God who created them out of the tenderness of His heart.
“And I will call her who was unloved, my beloved.”
It is not always easy to love those who have scorned us, bruised us, neglected us, wronged us, and have not empathetically stepped in our shoes to understand us, but it will bring us peace, bring us joy, bring us hope, and bring us closer to God when we can unite our pains and sufferings with His on the cross, and love His beloved.
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Speak life into another human being today. Speak life into your loved ones. Speak life into the ones it is hard to love. Speak life into the ones that do not love you the way you need it. Speak wholeness, speak peace, speak sympathy, speak integrity, speak wisdom, speak holiness, speak kindness, speak acceptance, speak forgiveness, speak hope, speak faith, speak humility, speak understanding, speak virtue, speak with grace, and deepen the depth of your heart so that every word you speak is full of truth, full of love, full of light, full of sincerity, full of God’s goodness, and full of everlasting life.
THIS will change relationships. THIS will nurture others. THIS will bring others out of their own pain, out of their own darkness, and they will be able to recognize their image and likeness of God, as well as experience wholeness, peace, joy, and a good life. Whatever relationship it is, whether it is with your spouse, your parent, your sibling, your child, your relative, your neighbor, your friend, your enemy, or some old man at the supermarket, the kindness in our words can transform any and every pain into peace. Words can heal.
On that note, here’s to each of us breaking any verbally abusive life patterns we may have fallen into and by the grace of God may we cultivate a peaceful, joy-filled, and loving life by prayerfully speaking good into it!