“Mom, do you remember that time you called me the devil?” My son posed this question over dinner one night recently. He was home from college out-of-state, and we were enjoying a rare dinner with the entire family. We were laughing and sharing old stories of times gone by. Between mouthfuls of potato salad and barbecue chicken, my young adults were laughing about all the things they had “gotten away with” as teenagers.
The question seemed to come from out of nowhere, and although I laughed it off, it secretly stung a bit, as I remembered an argument we had had some 6 years prior.
In retrospect, it was a small incident at school, but at the time it seemed much bigger and I lost my temper. In the heat of the moment, this exhausted mom screamed hurtful things at my then-teenage son. I instantly regretted them.
It didn’t matter that I had just undergone surgery. It didn’t matter that I was disappointed in his seemingly frequent poor choices. It didn’t matter that I was juggling lots of plates. I hurt him, and I couldn’t take it back.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” I recall screaming as I crammed my fingers into my ears, stuck my tongue out, and rolled my eyes in a way that only a small child can master. I’m sure I said that statement dozens of times throughout my adolescent years and probably had it thrown at me a time or two, when I was on the giving end of insults or ugly words. They hurt a lot. And sometimes they hurt worse than sticks or stones.
Perhaps the reason my son’s questions stung so badly is because I knew it was a failure on my part. Now, I’ve worked really hard to be conscious of the things I speak over my children. I’ve tried to be loving and caring, and use words of encouragement, as I’ve reared them. I’ve probably spoken thousands of words of accolades over them in the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of praises and hand claps and atta-girls, atta-boys. But that day, the words I spoke over my son hurt him, and no amount of accolades and praises will erase that.
In Genesis 27, the Bible details a significant event in history as it pertains to the power of our words. Isaac, a man who was old and turning blind (v. 1), predicts that he may be dying soon and wants to bless his first-born son, Esau, as was customary in the day. He sends for Esau, explains his intention, and asks Esau to prepare his favorite dish. While Esau was following his father’s instructions, Esau’s brother, Jacob (with plenty of help from his mother), masterfully tricks his father into thinking he was actually Esau. Inadvertently, Isaac blesses his son, Jacob – the wrong son!
Now, can I just be really honest, here? The first time (or dozen times) I read this story, I went over again and again, wondering why on earth this was so significant. I mean, Jacob lied. He wasn’t the first-born. He manipulated his father. Couldn’t his father simply take back the blessing and give it to Esau, the right recipient? It seemed simple enough, right? As I began to research this topic, I discovered that a blessing, in those days, wasn’t simply a well-wishing. It carried weight! It was a form of prophecy. Blessings were the equivalent of “signing it in blood!” The words spoken that day weren’t just words, they were future. They were life.
Man, things sure have changed haven’t they? Our words to seem to hold less and less merit these days. No longer is a man’s word his bond, as was once customary. Today, it seems a man (or woman) can just about anything and choose whether or not they follow through. Words can be spoken in loose, fiery, insult, over social media or the internet with little to no regard for another human being’s feelings. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
But things haven’t changed for God over the last decade. His word still stands true. And although we may not formally have a ceremony to bless our children, as was once tradition, the words we speak over our children, the things we say to our coworkers, the way we speak to our boss, pastor, teachers, friends, and family, they do matter. They aren’t merely utterances to be held with no regard.
Single moms, when you scream at your children, “You’re going to be a no-good loser just like your dad!” They aren’t just words.
Husbands, when you remark that your wife is “unattractive and lazy.” They aren’t just words.
Mothers, when you speak over your children, your praise or wrath is shaping their future. They aren’t just words.
Consider Proverbs 18:21 (NLT). “The tongue brings death or life, those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” This is significant! What we are saying from our mouths matters. And oftentimes, it’s in the heat of the moment, when we haven’t considered the impact on another, that we say something that we can’t take back.
We need to consider if we’re in the habit of speaking careless words before we are in a position to say them. Take a minute and ask yourself: do I often say things I wish I could take back? Have I ever been confronted about gossip, negativity, or putting down others? Realizing you have a problem with careless words is a great first step in the battle to defeat them once and for all.
Before you speak careless words to another person in your life, consider their consequences. Consider how you’ve felt when someone dishonored you with an unfair lashing of words. Consider how you’ve been torn down, simply by what another said to you. And most importantly, consider how you can be a giver of life with the words you speak.
[written by Jennifer Maggio, a wife and mother of three kids]