I have started this post about 12 times, as it is, this current post has been in the edit screen for far longer than I want to admit. I start it, and about halfway through, I decide it isn't worth the pain of writing it. I start it, and lose courage, afraid that people will read more into it than is really there. I start it, and realize someone will think I am writing this about them, and then erase it, not wanting to cause someone I love pain, especially when it isn't intended towards them. I begin to write, and then realize my words may cause anger or remorse, and don't want anyone to feel shame over their actions or past. But, here lies the truth. Words hurt. Words hurt when left unsaid. Words hurt when spoken. Words have such intense power. Words hold the power to communicate effectively. Words have the power to completely destroy someone. I recently read this passage of scripture and was immediately convicted: "It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech, we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary. You can tame a tiger, but you can't tame a tongue - it's never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues, we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can't go on. A spring doesn't gush fresh water one day and brackish water the next, does it? Apple trees don't bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don't bear apples, do they? You're not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?" ~ James 3:5-12 (The Message)
Let me just say, I read this at least four times before I felt even close to understanding what it was telling me. "Speak wisely, friend. Watch your tongue more closely than any other thing you ever do." It is so freeing to be so convicted and feel so incredibly forgiven at the same time. My brain immediately went into action, thinking, justifying, processing. It is something I forget, and I should be the last person on the face of this planet to forget the power of the tongue. And, in this delightful age of technology, this means our fingers, too. I am so incredibly guilty of having an emotion and posting it immediately on facebook. I get frustrated or hurt or confused, and pour my heart out to whoever might be on the other side of this screen reading. It is so easy to speak our minds in these days, making it even easier to cause irreparable damage to more people than I could ever imagine. I am going to say one more time, this post is NOT in regard to anyone that is reading it, but mainly the person writing it. It is just something I have felt compelled to write for months (really, since May or June!). It is part of my testimony, and is so vitally important not only to me, but each person that makes up the body of Christ. We are all working towards the same common goal, yet so easily want to get upset about the actions of another.
For many many years, I was built up by one person's words, then completely destroyed by them in the same exact sentence. When I was a teenager, I was a very confident person, though I was being raised in a church environment that didn't focus on a woman's confidence, putting me in a weird place. Not a bash, just an observation. As any other girl at 16 years old, I was ready for the fun of a boyfriend, dating and the like. Unfortunately, I was a very sheltered 16-year-old. I didn't understand that one's words could seem so amazing and yet be full of lies. I was swept off my feet, allowing myself to feel love and trust someone completely. I was naive. I will admit that. In many situations now, I find myself falling back into that same naivety. I want to believe the words people say, trust that they mean them, and know that they aren't being said to hurt me. This was the way I was raised. We spoke kindly to each other, even when we fought, I don't remember name-calling. Unless you call mustard-head an insult...
Anyway, over the period of the next ten years, I trusted the hurtful words of someone I loved as the truth and tried to view it as constructive criticism. I would take the words to heart, and work desperately to change myself to make their words less harsh towards me. After a while, I began to just know these negative words as truth, and believe them without any thought that they weren't accurate. I would accidentally drop something, causing it to shatter. I would think to myself that I was incapable of doing anything without ruining something else. I was told I was worthless, easily replaceable. I believed it. One person's words ignited my entire body, causing me to be consumed by this fire of self-doubt and hatred towards myself that eventually caused me to forget who I truly was. Most do not and will not understand how or why I believed this nonsense. Let me just say, looking back, I don't understand it either.
Over the last two years, I have had such an intense roller coaster ride. I had to fight to take my thoughts captive and remember I am not worthless, but a priceless treasure. Those words were just the lit match that was meant for harm. But, using hindsight now, I see that God is using my entire past for good. I can look back and see the damage words, thoughtless and intentional, can cause. And, then, I can look to the last 18-24 months of my life and see how the very same thing, words, were used to lift me up, causing those ashes to be turned into a beautiful testimony of God's healing and grace. I experienced a circumstance this week where someone jokingly told me how worthless or useless (I can't remember the exact word used) I was. The comment was a joke. I know it, as did everyone around me. It took me all night long to overcome the words. I am not angry about them now, but instead, I am thankful. Those words could have easily caused me to catapult backwards, into doubt, self-hatred, and complete belief that they were true. And, for one afternoon they did. Then, I remembered God doesn't make junk. God has plans for me that only I can fulfill. Plans no one can take away from me and do instead. That makes me instead, a rare find, and so valuable a price cannot be determined. I am not the same person I used to be. And, God is the only one that could have caused that, making me so thankful that I have learned to depend on him to define who I am, instead of those around me. His are the only thoughts toward me that are really important, and His thoughts towards me are as countless as the sand, so should I even care about that one time when so and so said...? Yeah, I am thinking not.
I am going to wrap up, but I really feel the urge to remind each of us. Be mindful of the words coming out of your mouth. Very rarely do we know every single detail of the lives around us. Very rarely do we know if our silly joke will tear them down. Guard your tongues. They cannot be and will not be tamed. Only one muscle in our body has the capability to ruin someone with one single breath. Instead, use your mouths for encouragement, forgiveness, love, so that you can one day look back and see people you have built up for God's glory. You never know your kind words will mean to a person.
As cheesy as this may sound, your very words may bring them out of a darkness so deep they can't see any light. Or, your words may plunge them into such horrible places, they begin to think they have no hope. Be careful. I have had two types of experiences in my life. And let me just say this, the experiences that haunt me now aren't the ones that left bruises. They are the ones that continue to echo through my brain, because a person's words have the ability to stick around a long time after they've been said. Proverbs 21:23 (The Message) says it like this, "Watch your words and hold your tongue; you'll save yourself a lot of grief." I really want to add to that, you will save everyone around you a lot of grief, too. Romans 14:19 encourages us with "So let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don't drag them down by finding fault...."
I am so incredibly guilty of saying the first thing that comes to mind. I need to remember my own experiences and how words have had power in my life. When you get the opportunity, lift someone up. You never know what they are walking through.