Brenda Cannon Henley: The power of our words
Words are powerful things, no matter what the quote books say. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is simply not true. I know this from first-hand experience.
People say things all the time that they do not mean. They use words to express their emotions, their love, their hatred, their inner struggles, and contempt and anger for other people. I know one lady who tells everyone she meets, “I love you.” It is simply not true. She doesn’t know most of them well enough to know if she loves them or not, and she certainly doesn’t have time to build the relationships that would in time reveal this truth. The phrase becomes meaningless and empty when used too often.
My pastor once used an entire sermon to discuss “love” and “like.” He said he loved his wife, but he liked chocolate ice cream. Love is to indicate a deep and lasting commitment from one person to the other. Every time since that sermon many years ago that I have heard these two words tossed around too freely, I think, “Do you really love them or is it more closely akin to liking the chocolate ice cream of that message?” It takes time, usually, to build love and respect, and even more time to earn trust.
We must guard our words and not use them too freely to keep from hurting other people and from making untruthful humans of us. In “The God of the Small Things,” Arundhati Roy wrote, “That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.” In other words, too much freely expressed emotion becomes meaningless in many situations, and it is difficult to regain trust and honesty in relationships.
The opposite of hurtful words are helpful or encouraging words. I love Proverbs 25:11 where we are taught, “A word fitly (or suitably) spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” A very clever woman that I worked with for many years wanted to give our boss the perfect birthday gift for his 80th birthday. Dr. John R. Rice wasn’t big on expensive, useless gifts. He liked gifts that would help the huge international ministry to grow and expand and reach more people. He did like creative and imaginative gifts.
Miss Willie labored over her gift for the man for whom she had worked 25 years. She sought until she found the perfect large wooden picture frame. She bought a metallic spray paint and sanded the wood and colored it in a really bright pretty silver color. I remember that the frame sparkled and shined as it awaited Dr. Rice’s arrival. She had placed some sort of material backing across the frame and had placed in the center several, perhaps a dozen or more, golden apples, all polished and attractive. And she had engraved on the bottom portion of the frame verse from Proverbs. Her creation covered one end of the gift table. When Dr. Rice entered the room, he was immediately drawn to that display of love and admiration.
His old eyes misted over as Miss Willie quietly whispered to him, “Dr. Rice, since July of 1934, when you founded the Sword of the Lord newspaper in Dallas, Texas, you have been delivering apples of gold in pictures of silver.” A number of photographs were taken of her gift and Dr. Rice kindly posed with it over and over again.
The Word of God has a lot to say about our words, both good and bad ones, and the Book of James is particularly aligned with speech habits. “… If any man (or woman) offend not in word, the same is a perfect (meaning complete) man and also able to bridle (or control) the whole body. We put bits in the horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. The ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, the governor (captain) lists. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasts great things. Behold, how great a fire a matter a little fire kindles” (James 3:2-5).
What have our words done today — have they hurt or helped others?