Lethal Language

We’ve all heard that children’s adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Well, it’s not really true is it? Words really can hurt a person, not physically but deep inside they can leave scars that stick with us. They can be lethal to us and to our souls.

Perhaps you have been at the receiving end of lethal words from a spouse or someone in authority. You know from personal experience, that the children’s saying about sticks and stones is not true.

Solomon in the book of Proverbs, made an astute observation of the power of words. Eugene Peterson, in his version of The Message takes this proverb and writes it out this way in modern English, “Rash language cut and maim but there is healing in the words of the wise.”

I have been doing a short sermon series entitled “Soul Detox.” Last week I talked about each one of us having a soul. Jesus told us to be careful with those souls. He said, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?” The soul is something to be taken care of, not to be taken lightly. So we are doing some soul searching, soul maintenance, and, perhaps, some soul restoration, by looking at some of the toxins, poisons, and pollutants that can damage our souls when they find their way inside of us.

One of those poisons that can ruin a soul is lethal language or toxic words. Here are a few samples of toxic words that can hurt.

“You’re a loser.”

“You’ll never add up to anything.”

“I’m sorry I ever married you.”

“You’re no good.”

“Can’t you do anything right?”

“You’re chubby.”

“You’re stupid.”

“I never loved you.”

“You’ll never change.”

“You are such a disappointment to me.”

“You are a real pain in the rear end.”

“Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

“You were a mistake, I wish I’d never had you.”

Ouch! And oftentimes, when these words get tossed in our direction, they do pierce, cut and maim. They are internalized inside of us, and, just as Proverbs says, we get wounded. These words eventually can, as they reside within us, fill us with bitterness, resentment, poor self-esteem, make us distant in our relationships, negative, critical. They might even cause us to use the same words on others. It can be deadly for these words to make their home inside of us.

Gordon McDonald, a wonderful Christian author, writes in his book, “Order in Your Private World” about a couple coming into his office for marriage counseling. The wife was asking her husband to leave home. When I asked her why, she said it was the only possible way there would be any peace or normal life for the rest of the family. There was no infidelity, no single issue, she simply wasn’t prepared to live with him the rest of his life given his temperament and value system. Of course, he did not want to leave and was shocked she came to this conclusion. He said, “I’ve been a faithful provider. The kids have everything they want, so do you. Besides aren’t we Christians? Pastor, can’t you help me solve this problem?”

The story slowly emerged as we talked. It became clear that I was visiting with a driven man and his wife. His driven-ness was costing a marriage, a family, and his physical health. That marriage was virtually dead. The family was in ruin. His health was in jeopardy as he told me of ulcers, migraine headaches, and occasional chest pains. He was the successful owner of a business, but he admitted giving in to explosive anger in times of conflict. He could be abrasive and intimidating in relationships. In social situations he was usually bored and tended to withdraw and drink too much. However, he was materially successful. He had great tickets to Red Sox games and a good job that was providing for his family.

After several conversations, I began to gain new insights into the energy source that was driving this man in a way of life that was destroying everything around him. In the midst of one of our talks, I asked him about his father. Suddenly his mood became dramatically altered. Anyone could have sensed that I had abruptly uncovered a deeply sensitive matter. What slowly unfolded was a story of deep pain. His father, I learned, was a man given to extreme sarcasm and ridicule. He had regularly told his son, “You’re a bum. You’ll always be a bum and nothing better.” Those words had become emblazoned like a neon sign in the center of this man’s private world. Now here he was in his early forties unconsciously trying to disprove the label given to him by his father. Words, words destroy.

A Christian woman named Christin Ditchfield, in her book called “A Way with Words,” tells of going to visit her grandmother for the weekend. When her mom and dad dropped her off at the front door, she walked in to grandma’s house only to find her with a group of friends praying around her, laying hands on her, and hugging her. Grandma was sobbing violently. After the friends had left, she came to Christin and explained to her that she was letting go of a hurt from the past. God had put His finger on a wound in her heart that needed to be healed. It was a burden from which she needed to be set free.

Still teary, she went on to say how she realized that morning that she had been holding on to a hurt ever since she was a little girl. It had haunted her all of her life. Once, in a fit of anger, her mother told her that she was a mistake and should never have been born. Her mother had not been a very sentimental woman, kind of a stiff upper lip. And this happened long before she knew Jesus.

Ditchfield wrote, “I doubt it would have ever occurred to her, the anguish that her careless words could cause, but more than sixty years later, the pain was still so fresh that her daughter could hardly breathe. For decades her mother’s words had hounded her. They robbed her of any sense of joy or satisfaction in her accomplishments. She’d become a national champion swimmer in her teens, an ambulance driver during World War II, and a beloved wife, mother and grandmother. She was active, reaching younger women in the church to mentor them. Yet at times when my grandmother was vulnerable, the devil used her mother’s words to convince her that she was utterly worthless. She had been wounded by those words.”

The world is full of people who have had their hopes shattered, their dreams dashed, their self-image left in shambles. They’ve been crippled or stifled or silenced by hurtful words. Toxic words drove both of these individuals into very unhappy lives.

So how does we get healed if someone has dumped that kind of poison into your life? Solomon said that while reckless words can wound like a sword, words of the wise have power to heal. We need wisdom. Who wiser would we turn to than the God who made us and knows what makes our lives work and who loves us? This God has a word for us in His holy Word. He is much wiser that any wisdom of the world. In fact, according to St. Paul, His foolishness is even wiser than human wisdom. So, we should listen to God’s Word if we are looking to be healed.

I invite you to let God’s Word minister to you if you’ve had toxic words thrown in your direction. Listen to them, claim them, and believe them. In the book of Genesis, it says you were created in the image of God. That means that you were the crown of His creation. You are loved and made for a personal relationship with God. You are of more value than many sparrows, as Jesus said. You were also died for, according to Scripture. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Put your own name in there, like I’ll put in mine. God so loved “Steve” that He gave His own Son. That Son died for me Ð and for you Ð at the cross. God loves you that much! That’s how valuable you are to Him.

The apostle Paul says that when we trust in Him, we are a new creation, called to be His ambassador Ð we have a high purpose placed upon us in Christ. You, who are a representative of Jesus Christ in this world, have no higher calling in life than that.

The apostle Paul also says that you are a masterpiece, created for good works that God has prepared for you. In John’s first letter he says, “. . . and so we are children of God” (I John 3:1). Children of God. Precious to Him!

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, and I certainly hope you are, then I appeal to you this day, claim these precious truths for yourself. Let go of that old junk and claim these things. Tape these words on your bathroom mirror or on your refrigerator door, and tell them to yourself over and over and over again in your self-talk:

I am created in God’s image. I am died for.

I am a new creation in Christ. I am a masterpiece.

Let these words from your wise God who loves you become your truth.

How do we learn to guard our hearts against toxic words that get thrown at us? How do we guard our hearts so that words don’t imprison us and destroy us within? Well, the truth is, we can’t control what others say about us, but we can control what we choose to believe. Countless times a day, when it comes to what you hear, you have choices to make. Do I believe this or not? Do I accept it or do I reject it?

I invite you to try this little exercise. It’s called “Truth or Trash.” When someone has said something to you or about you, take time to analyze the message and the source before swallowing and digesting it. Ask these questions of yourself: Are their words true? Are they based on Scripture? Are they supported by data over time? Does this person sincerely love me?

If there is some truth in their words, whether they be some critiques or encouragement, then embrace them and act upon them. But if the words are untrue, mean-spirited, non-scriptural, and critical without being constructive, then call them for what they are TOXIC WASTE! Reject them. Don’t let those words in. Take out the trash and leave it by the curb. Hit the delete button and walk away from it.

Also, remember that you don’t have to deal with these words alone. God has given us each other, the Christian community to remind us of God’s truths. We are to be encouragers with one another and to reflect God’s love to one another. I encourage you, when someone throws something in your direction, to turn to a mature, reliable brother or sister in Christ, someone you respect, and ask this question of them: “You know me. Is this true of me?”

So how is your soul these days? Are there lethal words sticking inside of you and inside your soul? How are you taking care of your soul? I encourage you this day to take out the trash and leave it out. Take it out to the curb and choose instead to feed your soul the wise, life-giving Word of God. After all, He is the true lover of your soul.