Have you ever tried to put toothpaste back in the tube? If so, then you know it’s a hopeless endeavor. Once it’s out, it’s out. The damage is done.
Hurtful words are like that too. Once said, we can’t take them back.
Oh, we might try to make excuses. But excuses don’t work.
“You know I say things I don’t mean when I’m angry.”
“I was just kidding.”
“What’s the big deal? You’re too sensitive!”
“My father said the same thing to me.”
How many adults do you know that still remember a harsh or unbelieving message said by a parent or other authority figure, even decades before? Often, a person might spend a lifetime trying to prove those words (and that person) wrong. Sadly, condemning words might also establish a person’s trajectory, even when it’s harmful or destructive.
Yes, our words are incredibly important. As children, we said: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” What a complete and utter lie.
My passion for sharing the life-changing impact of sincere, affirming words is rooted in part from also knowing the destruction that negative words can cause. I’ve experienced such wounds in my own life and understand the lasting impact of verbal shrapnel.
How do we heal from the emotional injury caused by hurtful words?
-First and foremost, go to the Healer. Ask God to replace those negative, condemning messages with truth. Keep asking for Him to heal the wounds caused by others’ words.
-Make a list of the things that God says about you in The Bible and review that list daily. Reprogram your mind with the Truth. Check out the The Father's Love Letter for a beautiful summary.
-Forgive the person who spoke the hurtful words to you. They might be deceased, but you still need to forgive them for your own healing. Often, people who speak the most destructive things are projecting how they really feel about themselves. The old saying that “hurt people hurt people" is so true. When we’re the recipient of those painful verbal arrows, it’s hard to immediately see that, but perspective grows with time.
-If you are still in a relationship with the person, pray about whether to talk to the offending party about their hurtful words. Often, the person who fired the words at you won’t even remember uttering them. Tell them, kindly, about what was said and how it impacted you. Express your forgiveness (assuming you do.) While this might seem like you are stirring up old, painful memories, it will be instructive to the other person and healing for you. Authenticity, as challenging as it can be at times, generally strengthens relationships.
Yes, some might deflect and dismiss what you want to share. You probably already know who those people are. In such cases, I believe Jesus’ advice in Matthew 7:6 applies: “Do not cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you into pieces.” Just keep it between you and God. He knows your hurts and promises to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
What about the words that come out of our own mouths? Do you often find yourself saying things you later regret or that are hurtful to others? Do you take pride in providing “constructive criticism” to help others see their shortcomings? Or make jokes at another's expense?
If so, I hope you will really reflect and pray about your words and ask God to help you control your tongue. This prayer from Psalm 19:14 is a great one to start each day: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and redeemer.”
Before bed each night, spend some time thinking about what you’ve said to others throughout the day. Ask God to show you anything that you said that was inappropriate or hurtful. Ask God for forgiveness. Then, be sure to ask the wounded party for their forgiveness the next day. Keep short accounts. Eating humble pie a few times will likely cause you to lose your appetite for repeated servings!
Our words really are our superpower. We can cause tremendous damage with negative, condemning words. But the good news is that there’s another side to this coin! We can make a tremendously positive impact with our words, too! More on that next week!
“The tongue has the power of life and death.”