“Sticks and Stones may hurt my bones, but words will never harm me.” I learned this rhyme as a child when my mother was trying to teach me to ignore the hurtful things others might say about me or about my family and friends. But the truth is, words do hurt; and they can cause harm to one’s spirit.
Sometimes words are used intentionally to cause harm. We first learn this on the playground as children call one another names to express their dislike of another child. Nicknames are given that are hurtful and cause harm to children; damage that can follow one into adulthood. We witness the harm words can cause when teenagers belittle one other for another’s clothing choice, or hairstyle, or music preference, and any number of things that might be ridiculed. We see adults craft critically harsh words for those who express different political views, theological understandings, and world views. While no bones may be broken or blood shed, harm is done, hurt is inflicted.
Sometimes words unintentionally offend. What might seem harmless to someone creates great angst for another. The offender does not mean to offend or hurt or cause harm, and may not even be aware that a particular word or phrase is hurtful. But harm is done, relationships become strained and even broken; especially, if the one offended assumes everyone has had the same life experience as themselves and refuses to extend grace to the unintentional offender.
Over the past several weeks, as I have read the comments and posts on Facebook concerning the topics of racism, the Confederate flag, the ruling of the United States Supreme Court on marriage equality, I have witnessed the harm words can do. I have seen life-long friends “unfriend” each other and shut down any possibility of conversation and relationship. I have witnessed people demonize those who disagree with their particular belief or opinion. I have watched people walk away from those who would never intentionally cause harm.
It is important to choose our words with care, and no one should ever feel compelled to endure intentional harm. However, I believe we must strive to maintain relationships, to be in conversation with those who may not see eye to eye, and to extend God’s grace to those who mean no harm. Maybe John Wesley said it best: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”
May God watch over us as we seek to live in the grace and love of the Word.