Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Are You a Prisoner of Your Words?

Have you ever put your foot in your mouth? Then, after realizing that you did, trying to make it all better, had to make room for the other one? Wow, I have. Mine are a size twelve too! Foot-in-mouth disease is what some choose to call it, but I think it can get even more serious. Anyone who has lived at all knows how important our words are. Some words can hurt deeply and others can heal effectively. What's the difference? I believe it is a combination of what we say, when we say it and how we say it. Let's look at the "what" first.
All of us have been on both ends of a comment that has cut straight to the bone, have we not? As a child we used to repeat this little ditty: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!" Uh, that's a lie. Physical wounds heal much faster than emotional wounds. In all of the thousands of hours I spent in a therapeutic setting I never once had someone come to me to discuss the effects of an arm broken after falling out of a tree at twelve years old! It was more likely the ridicule they faced for climbing that tree in the first place that had a greater impact on them. Physical wounds often leave visible scars, but those that others cannot see can be more painful to deal with. We all need to be careful in choosing our words, especially when we are angry. Harsh words have a lingering effect. So, what should I say in any given situation? Here are two suggestions to consider:
     1. Think before you speak,
     2. Ask the question: What would I like to hear right now?
So, what about the timing of our words? I remember somewhere in my mid-thirtees I was in a crisis. It seemed that all of my efforts to find opportunities to use my theological education were for naught. It was apparent that I was frustrated, discouraged and confused. You see it was more than just a job situation. This was about who I believed I was! Someone very close to me, knowing my situation said to me: "Why don't you go back to school and become a teacher?" Now, it wasn't a bad suggestion given my gifts and talents in that area, but the timing was terrible!! Because the words to me really meant: "You ought to just give up." Given my emotional state, the words were not timely. Remember the previous two suggestions? They apply here as well.
Now, what about the way we speak? Okay, I love sarcasm. But unless you are a stand-up comedian it's usually inappropriate. Do your words mask anger? Frustration? Jealousy? Impatience? Exasperation? If so, I'm here to tell you it's a thin mask!! Our emotions are usually quite apparent when we are responding to someone. The delivery of our spoken words betray a transparency that can be very hurtful to the receiver. Being aware of this can help us to avoid a world of hurt.
So, what if your words have betrayed you? What if what you said and when you said it with that attitude has caused damage to someone you care about? How can you get out of that holding cell that your words have put you in? Well, there's a solution that is both easy and difficult: apologize!! Isn't it amazing what impact a sincere apology can have? The power behind the three little words: "I am sorry" is amazing! So, then why is it so difficult? Because it's humbling to have to admit that we are wrong. Don't let pride stand in the way of any relationship. The Bible says that it comes before a fall!
Watch your words. They will either imprison or free both you and the person receiving them.
Until next time. God bless you,