How old were you when you learned to talk? Very verbal children might say their first words at 10 months. By age two you probably had a vocabulary of 200 to 300 words, and the ability to form simple sentences.
You might say that you’ve been saying words all your life. But the real question is, “What have those words done?” Sure, millions of them, even most of them, are gone and forgotten, having served their momentary purpose. Others, though, had profound and lasting consequences.
The Bible has hundreds of verses that speak about speaking, dozens in the book of Proverbs alone. At the core of the biblical teaching about our words is the idea that they have power- power to build or destroy; to bless or to curse; to heal or to wound; to instruct or to corrupt. I am sure other faith traditions teach about the power of words, too.
You are five years old. It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Suddenly you come running into the house, crying. You’re sobbing like someone hit you with a stick. “What’s wrong?” Mom asks. “They called me stupid!” you moan.
When that happened to an American kid, his mom may have repeated the conventional wisdom that her mother told her: “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.”
Our moms meant well, but they were wrong. We’ve all been hurt by words, and sometimes the effect lasts years. Solomon the King said that reckless words pierce like a sword. Many of us know just how true that is. Insult, ridicule and rejection tore our souls like hooks tear soft flesh.
The power of words is multiplied by the closeness of the relationship. That’s because a close relationship requires some unguarded openness. A stranger’s malignant words can sting, but the same words from a spouse, parent, sibling, or child can eat at our souls like acid.
Thankfully, that is not the end of the story. If words can hurt, words can also heal. A well-timed comment from a compassionate heart can encourage us in a way that will change both the outlook and the outcome of our lives. Wise words, spoken in love and re-enforced regularly, can actually heal wounded hearts, reversing the damage of years.
A few years ago I decided to try to reconnect with a lady who was a like a mom to me when I was a teen. As we talked by phone, I told her about our lives and all we have done, by God’s grace. After a short, quiet pause she said “Mike, I am so proud of you.”
Friends, that dear woman has known me since I was 16. Now I am sixty-four. She saw me in the early, confused days of my development. To hear her express pride in what God has done in our lives means more, much more, than the passing compliment of a stranger.
When Diane- my wife, my lover, and my best my friend- tells me she is honored to be my wife, those words invigorate me. I want to become an even more honorable man in every way.
Good words spoken from good hearts have a good result. So, let healing encouraging, words flow from your heart to your husband or wife.
Here are some strategies:
When you hear a word that encourages you, acknowledge it and thank your spouse for saying it. We met a couple for counseling this week, one of many that we meet within any given year. As they sat together on the sofa the man touched her gently and said, “I love you.”
“Really?” said the wife. Her husband told us that that is her usual response. He expresses sincere love. She questions his sincerity. When someone does that it makes you feel that your words, meant to brighten and encourage, do just the opposite.
Careless words are like acid. When you say words that wound, withdraw them quickly before they eat away at your spouse’s soul. Tell your mate you are sorry for those words, and admit that you said them in a moment of anger or frustration.
If you have a backlog of hurtful words, declare a day when you will give yourselves a new beginning. Make it a “marriage merdeka.” It is a day to declare your freedom from all the hurtful words in your past. Agree to make a fresh start and to really think about what you say and how you say it.
Let’s have marriages that bring healing and growth. Speaking healing, encouraging words will help make that happen. Then we will see the truth found in the words of this old song:
“Down in the human heart, crushed by unkindness, feelings lie buried that grace can restore. Touched by a loving hand, wakened by kindness, Chords that were broken can vibrate once more.”