Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation. – Matthew 12:36b-37 (MSG)
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” Generations of children inherited this chant as though its utterance would cast a spell of protection over us. I can hear it in my head in the cadence and style it was taught to me as a young one.
This blatant falsehood that was meant to thicken our skin inadvertently deepened the invisible wounds caused by careless words. We carried these unhealed hurts into adulthood, comfortably hidden in the crevices of our being until they unintentionally spill out of us, recycling the very harm we absorbed as children.
Oh, how I wish Matthew’s wisdom could’ve been more readily available to us, as children and even now as adults. If we truly grasped how very powerful words are to our very existence –so powerful they can literally preserve or eliminate lives – we would have to reconsider almost everything we know.
In place of political correctness, we can respect people and the language they use to refer to themselves (instead of language that erodes respect). Instead of tweets, status updates, and word-slinging in the comments section, we can rehumanize the digital distance between our keyboards and people’s screens on the other end.
As we continue to prepare in this time of Advent, let’s choose a truthier chant to share with the Christ-child and children of every age: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can save or kill.
Give us the wisdom to choose words that more powerfully reflect Love and Life. Amen.
The Rev. Phiwa Langeni is the Founder/Director of Salus Center (the first LGBTQ Resource & Community Center in Lansing, MI) and Pastor of Salus Center UCC & First Congregational UCC – Ypsilanti. They are a parent, speaker, writer, transitional coach, designer, and low-key fashion head.