I’ve never been beat up. Never had my nose bloodied, arm broken, or shoulder dislocated. I’ve never been sucker-punched or pushed to the ground. Maybe I’ve been shoved around a little, but mostly just when the crowd got rowdy, and someone wanted a place at the top or the front.
Even so, I can say with pretty strong authority that the glibly repeated Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me (or but words can never harm me) is both inaccurate and dangerous.
According to some word historians, the printed adage originally appeared in The Christian Recorder in 1862, and said to be the answer to bullying… “True courage consists in doing what is right, despite the jeers and sneers of our companions.”
Always true: it’s never OK to abandon doing what we know to be the right thing because someone might make fun of us.
So, let’s just say that. Let’s just tell our children and theirs that it’s hard to follow the way of Jesus when people make fun of us, call us names, or, maybe worst of all, leave us out.
And then, let’s expose the truth: Despite quaint and tired axioms, names and words can and do and will continue to hurt us. And the pain will be felt long after a skinned knee would have healed.
Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure most of us have used “sticks and stones” at one time or another because it was more expedient to appeal to a child’s strength rather than sit with him in his pain.
Worse yet, far too many adults just use more sophisticated words and slurs to accomplish the same goals they had in middle school. In the long ago past, if you wanted to hurt someone publicly, beating them up in the street was about the only thing that had any impact. Sometimes it started with an insult, just enough to get things going. But it was usually settled with sticks and stones, fists and feet.
The wounds and bruises of a fight would be on display for a long time, spreading the news of the altercation in the only way possible – word of mouth or face-to-face observation of the damage. “You should see the other guy” claimed victory in the absence of first-hand observation.
Even then, though, the effect of the grapevine on a woman’s reputation could cause a lifetime of isolation and misery.
Now days, calling someone out is pretty easy. All you have to do is make an ugly or outrageous accusation on any public forum and, within minutes, it will be a news story, viral cell phone video, or Tik-Tok phenomenon. Make a comparison to Hitler, Attila the Hun, Mussolini, Genghis Kahn, or Nero and the virtual gloves are off. Accuse someone of being a racist or white supremist and sparks fly. Call someone a socialist or fascist and, as they say, it’s on!
We live in a world where physical bruises pale in comparison to the weaponized words swirling for eternity through the universe on screens for all to see and hear.
I am so sad today, reading more and more accounts of how even church leaders are resorting to the tactics of the schoolyard bully. They name-call and accuse from afar, safe within the walls of the House of God where, surely, they are simply trying to expose evil and protect their flock from wicked wolves and malicious leaders.
But my concern today is not if the Church and politics will learn to peacefully and respectfully cohabitate. I’m not analyzing or ignoring the future of the Church and freedom of religion.
And I’m not saying that one “side” or the other is more culpable.
What concerns me is that we best watch our step real close to home. Many Christians are so busy worrying about what may or may not happen in the future that they fail to see a divided world being created for our children – the hope of the future.
I believe, my lovelies, that every single time we label a female leader “Jezebel” with a sneer, or disparage the qualifications of a leader by loudly questioning their mental state – even though we are woefully unqualified to make a diagnosis, our children see that words and names do hurt and damage and bruise. And they see that we see it, too.
I believe that we perpetuate the very opposite of what we have quoted and preached for years, that what is said or heard is of little consequence as long as we don’t punch – or get punched – in the nose.
Several years ago, a person, one whom I’d known for only a brief time, dismissed me as having an “unteachable spirit.” The remarks weren’t veiled in a spirit of concern or willingness to help me grow. They were exactly what they appeared to be: insulting.
Having interacted only seven or eight times, we hadn’t known each other long or well enough for either of us to make such broad assumptions. I was stunned… knocked sideways.
Now, I know that I have a self-sufficient attitude sometimes, well, a lot of the time. I have often tried to figure it out myself, not asking for the help I could have used.
I know I’ve been proud.
But that label, that accusation, those mean-spirited words were harsh and judgmental – and, when delivered to diminish me, had no redeeming quality.
I knew right away how invalid those words were, how insignificant they should have been to me, how they were so thoughtlessly spoken. And my heart and spirit were supported and soothed by the true and kind words of those I love who know me well and love me through and through, despite my pride and self-sufficiency.
Yes, it was several years ago. But, no matter what I know or how well I am cared for, those words still linger. Those words said by someone who may never be willing to acknowledge the size or depth of the wound.
Words like embers that still ignite and burn.
So also the tongue is a small thing,James 3:5
but what enormous damage it can do.
A great forest can be set on fire by one tiny spark.
We no longer live with gunfights or the fear of an ambush at Cimarron Pass. But, each and every one of us harness the power of a million tiny sparks. And our children are watching us as we make the choices each and every day to use that power to tear down and destroy or to encourage and build.
This isn’t difficult. We have the power to both sucker-punch and to heal. And the little ones we love are waiting and watching.
Will they see us with the match? or the bucket of cool water?
We need to decide.
So until we write and read again, I pray for you …
Photo by Mister James on Unsplash