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Food for Thought - Musings

Destructive Power of Words

Once again, after a short break, I want to discuss the power of words. If you recall, I closed the first musing with the assertion that words have inherent power to bring life, calm, wounding or pain. It is important for us to own that power for good or evil and choose carefully regarding both the momentary need and the person with whom we are speaking.

The next month I focused our attention on
Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” exploring how our verbal responses can change the emotional tenor of a conversation. The third installment explored the positive power of words, pointing out the impact that words have for good, for life, for healing. I encouraged us to be slow to speak and quick to listen to God and to others, and to seek to be a life-giving, life-affirming voice of grace.

This month we will explore the negative power of words, an apt reminder in a time when online bullying and hateful rhetoric seem to be the norm rather than the exception. I am shocked and appalled by some of the interactions I see on Facebook, as well as the contemptible emails sent to those serving in our churches — brothers and sisters who disagree politically vilifying and demonizing those who disagree with them, brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as those outside the Church, who also are created in God’s image and the very ones Jesus came to save. The nature of public discourse today is often shameful.

The writer of Proverbs paints a powerful picture of the vicious violence words are capable of inflicting on another, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword…”
(Proverbs 12:18 NASB). We need to carry with us this image of a sword, and hope that it will help us refrain from speaking hastily or pushing the send key, texting or posting without forethought--for hopefully you do not truly desire to plunge a sword into another to prove a point. Please remember the destruction of our word thrusts is not always visible but often it is unseen, causing internal bleeding of which we may be unaware and other times our words leave a gaping wound visible to all. Either way a simple “sorry” is not sufficient for full recovery from a thrusting word wound and it certainly does not immediately undo the damage that has been done.

Owning the power of words to bring life (see positive power of words in previous post) or suffering, we must cautiously and responsibly consider the impact we have to inflict pain; we must slow down, weigh our words and choose carefully, especially when emotions are high. When we feel emotions rising within us, forces of destruction that may cause us to lash out in hurtful ways, we need to name and own our feelings, explore the root cause, and prayerfully choose a response. We need to call on Jesus instead of thrusting sword into another.

In the past few weeks as I posted on Facebook, I received some less than gracious responses from people I know and who know me. I was a bit surprised and taken aback, so I decided to prayerfully respond from my identity
as God’s beloved, examining my own heart as to why I was hurt. I sought to respond with the same grace that I would want to receive. I am not saying I did this perfectly or even well, but I did seek to take the time needed, in order to respond in love and grace. The image of a sword thrust helped me to remember, as I truly did not want to inflict pain on these, God’s children. Admittedly, I find this process much more difficult when engaged face to face. In those interactions I try to remember the verse from Proverbs 15, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” reminding me that though I may be feeling strongly, hurt, or even attacked, my response will determine the direction of the exchange.

Take some time to consider the image of hasty words as a sword thrust, thinking through the implications of such, the pain and damaged caused, the healing needed and the ongoing consequences. Let this image help you as you feel emotions rising, to not lash out with a sword. Instead, turn to Jesus, taking the time to name and own what you are experiencing, reminding

yourself of your identity as a new creation, the beloved of God.
Then engage with love, grace and truth.

Your words can be deadly or bring life and healing. Choose carefully.

P.S. If you have a strong emotional reaction to something you have read and feel compelled to respond, STOP! Do not reply. Step back, take a few deep breaths and wait a few minutes or a couple of hours before pushing the send key. If you are really wound up, it might be helpful to have someone else critique your response. Don’t be involved in another drive-by stabbing. If you feel you have been knifed, fight the urge to retaliate, and turn to Jesus who knew all too well what that feels like.

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