Words matter. When we’re little, with the big ol’ world out there waiting for us to conquer it, we think the bullies are on the playground, that the hurtful words only exist on the television (and come with some meaningful lesson around the 30-minute mark). We grow up hearing “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” and we actually believe it. But isn’t it more likely you’ll hear hurtful words than have someone beat you with sticks and stones? How much more likely are we to see emotional and psychological abuse as normalized parts of our existence? A sad truth is this: far too many people use love as an excuse to spew hateful words.
How about some examples?
- “I love you. Now, why don’t you come around anymore? You know how your father gets when he’s drinking. He really didn’t mean to squeeze your wrist. Aren’t you being too sensitive about it?”
- “Don’t you know what you’re doing to me? You know how your father is. You can’t change him and besides, you just have to get over it. Like the rest of us do.”
- “Why do you hate me? I am sorry that you were offended by that?”
The list could go on. We’re all guilty of saying the wrong thing from time to time. Nobody sees eye to eye at all times. Miscommunication happens. Misunderstandings happen. We’ve all heard the cliches- put your foot in your mouth, your mouth wrote a check your butt can’t cash, etc. The human being is prone to speak foolishly.
Let’s look at some verses.
Ephesians 4:29 (CSB) says, ” Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Proverbs 10:32 (CSB) says, “The lips of the righteous know what is appropriate, but the mouth of the wicked, only what is perverse.”
Ecclesiastes 10:14 (CSB) says, “yet the fool multiplies words. No one knows what will happen, and who can tell anyone what will happen after him?”
During my youth, I tended towards letting my mouth get away from me before I took the time to think about what I said. I hurt loved ones. I scathed folks I disliked. Over time, I’ve learned silence can be (and often is) the proper recourse for others’ hurtfulness. I’ve also realized that bullies find the word “no” very offensive and will often spin the narrative in such a way, you are the villain for saying no. But doesn’t our Father in Heaven tell us no when it’s better for us? Doesn’t He command us to use uplifting language and to seek what is holy and just? Now that I’m older, I recognize that “no” can be a hurtful word, but it is not a hateful one.
And therein lies the difference. Because we are imperfect in our sin, we take denial of what we want as hurtful. As any parent will tell you, a child shouldn’t always get what they want, when they want it, in the way they think they want it. Sometimes, it’s just not safe for them. Sometimes, there’s a reason to wait or they’ve got to earn it in some fashion. To the child, this is hurtful. It’s mean. It’s unfair. It is NOT hateful. Now, as adults, we sometimes need to say no for our own well-being. Rape culture is not okay; once someone says no, what they might have previously allowed is no longer allowable. This does not just refer to sex; rather, it refers to any moment when someone’s decision to say no (about anything) is attacked and they are demeaned, belittled, and vilified. Remember the three examples earlier? Those can occur after someone has drawn the line and said no.
In Ephesians 4:31 (CSB) we’re told to “Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice.”
Matthew 5:7 (CSB) tells us “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Forgiving hurtfulness is hard enough. Forgiving hatefulness is harder still. God calls us to forgive, as we are forgiven. Hate belongs to the devil. Love to God. Forgiveness spent… it’s like currency. The more hatefulness you endure, the more forgiveness you need. The more forgiveness you give, the more peace you enjoy. It isn’t easy and it isn’t always fun. But here’s a little nugget for you. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to go right back to subjecting yourself to hatefulness. No, God doesn’t call us to be foolish, so if doing so will guarantee you will sin, turn the other cheek and walk on out of there.
I’m going to end with this prayer. Join me if you will.
Lord, our God, I cry out against hateful words. I cry out against the foolishness of wasted speech. Grant me the wisdom to be silent. Grant me the strength to show grace when I really don’t want to. You sent your son to endure the hateful and hurtful. And Lord I am grateful that he chose the cross and forgiveness. I pray that when life gets too hard and people just seem so mean-spirited, you make me wise and not the fool. In your wonderful name, I pray. Amen.