Words hurt and heal. They shock and inspire. No matter what, they affect us. Sure, we could don our big girl panties and shout at the top of our lungs, “Sticks and stones…” But we know the truth. Uttering “words will never hurt me” is a bold, unrealistic statement. We can stick out our tongues and throw in a “Nanny nanny boo boo” or two, pretending we are tough, unaffected. But in the solitude of home, where the playground bullies can’t see us, we allow our hearts to cry and our lips to quiver.
Eons ago, when I was a teacher, I would illustrate the power of words by removing a crisp, clean piece of paper from a spiral. “This,” I would say, “represents you each morning. An untainted piece of paper. However, we don’t stay that way for long.” I would ask them to shout out the negative words they might hear —either from parents, siblings, friends, or even themselves—before ever stepping into a classroom. With each phrase, I would place a small fold in the paper. They would list the things they would hear throughout the day to weaken their resolve or wound them like paper cuts on freshly scrubbed skin. Once I couldn’t fold the paper anymore, I would then ask them to tell me the positive things they might hear throughout the day. Sadly, most of them couldn’t say very much beyond a teacher calling their name during roll. As they offered their “good” words, I would unfold the paper. And even then, the memory of the folds still lives in the paper.
When I met Lady Di at our favorite booth on Saturday, we were talking about our week and some of the nastiness we heard from people. We realized just how crumpled we were feeling. But the truth is, I have been guilty (more than I care to admit) of hurting others with my words. I like to keep a folded piece of paper with me to remind me to guard my tongue, for as Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “The tongue can bring death or life.” I’d rather my words be like honey, “sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
When I crawl into a bed at night, sometimes in a million creases from the day, I find solace in words. God’s Word. John 1:1 reminds us that, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Yes. His Word is elixir for my world-weary soul. My heart leaps for joy for The Word brought me life and a clean piece of paper.