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Are Your Words Building Others Up or Tearing Them Down?

Originally published Wednesday, 07 July 2021.

choose your words scrabble

“Mom, do you remember that time you called me the devil?” my son said over dinner one night. He was home visiting, and we were enjoying a rare dinner with the entire family. We were laughing and sharing old stories of times gone by. Between mouthfuls of potato salad and barbecue chicken, my young adults were laughing about all the things they had “gotten away with” as teenagers. The question seemed to come from out of nowhere, although I laughed it off, it secretly stung a bit as I remembered an argument we had had some six years prior. In retrospect, it was a small incident at school, but at the time, it seemed much bigger, and I lost my temper. In the heat of the moment, this exhausted mom screamed hurtful things at my then-teenage son. I instantly regretted them. It did not matter that I had just undergone surgery. It did not matter that I was disappointed in his seemingly frequent poor choices. It did not matter that I was juggling lots of plates. I hurt him, and I could not take it back.

You Cannot Erase Hurtful Words

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” I recall screaming as I crammed my fingers into my ears, stuck my tongue out, and rolled my eyes in a way that only a small child can master. I am sure I said that statement dozens of times throughout my adolescent years and probably had it thrown at me a time or two when I was on the giving end of insults or ugly words. You are likely familiar with it, as well.  It seems to be a pretty common adage that parents teach their children early on. Perhaps it can be successfully used to counteract the attacks of a neighborhood bully or deter a sibling who has said something unkind, a parent may think. But words do hurt. They hurt a lot. And sometimes they hurt worse than sticks or stones.

Perhaps the reason my son’s questions stung so bad was because I knew it was a failure on my part. Now, I have worked really hard to be conscious of the things I speak over my children. I have tried to be loving and caring and use words of encouragement as I have reared them. Through the years, I have probably spoken thousands of accolades over them in the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of praises and handclaps and atta-girls, atta-boys. But that day, the words I spoke over my son hurt him, and no amount of accolades and praises will erase that.

The Weight of Words in the Bible

In Genesis 27, the Bible details a significant event in history as it pertains to the power of our words. Isaac, a man who was old and going blind (v. 1), predicts that he may be dying soon and wants to bless his first-born son, Esau, as was customary in that day.  He sends for Esau, explains his intention, and asks Esau to prepare his favorite dish. While Esau was following his father’s instructions, Esau’s brother, Jacob (with plenty of help from his mother), masterfully tricks his father into thinking he was actually Esau. Inadvertently, Isaac blesses his son, Jacob - the wrong son! Now, can I just be really honest here? The first time (or dozen times) I read this story, I went over, again and again, wondering why on earth this was so significant. I mean, Jacob lied. He was not the firstborn. He manipulated his father. Why Isaac simply couldn't just take back the blessing and give it to Esau, the rightful recipient? It seemed simple enough, right? As I began to research this topic, I discovered that a blessing, in those days, was not simply a well-wishing. It carried weight!  It was a form of prophecy. Blessings were equivalent to “signing it in blood!” The words spoken were not just mere words; they were promises and a future. They were life.

Man, things sure have changed, haven’t they? Our words seem to hold less and less merit these days. No longer is a man’s word his bond, as was once customary. Today, it seems a man (or woman) can do just about anything and choose whether or not to follow through. Words can be spoken as loose, fiery insults over social media or the internet with little to no regard for another human being’s feelings. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Things have not changed for God over the last decade. His Word still stands true. Although we may not formally have a ceremony to bless our children, as was once the tradition, the words we speak over our children, the things we say to our coworkers, the way we speak to our bosses, pastors, teachers, friends, and family, matter. They are not merely utterances to be held with no regard.

Single moms, when you scream at your children, “You’re going to be a no-good loser just like your dad!” They are not just words.

Husbands, when you say that your wife is “unattractive and lazy.” They are not just words.

Mothers, when you speak over your children, your praise or wrath is shaping their future. They are not just words.

Consider the Consequences

Consider Proverbs 18:21 (NLT). “The tongue brings death or life, those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” This is significant! What we are saying from our mouths matters. Oftentimes, in the heat of the moment, we have not considered the impact on another, that we say something that we cannot take back. Before you speak careless words to another person in your life, consider their consequences. Consider how you felt when someone dishonored you with an unfair lashing of words. Consider how you felt being torn down, simply by what another said to you. Most importantly, consider how you can be a giver of life with the words you speak.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Brett Jordan

Jennifer Maggio is a national voice for single mothers and hurting women. Her personal story has been featured in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Daystar Television, The 700 Club, and many others. She is CEO/Founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a national nonprofit that works with churches to develop single mom’s programs and currently serves more than 1,500 churches.

The Life of a Single Mom has served 406,000 single mothers over the last decade and counting.  Maggio is an author of several books, including The Church and the Single Mom. For more information, visit www.jennifermaggio.com.