Words can be powerful for both good and evil whether we are 9 or 99.
When I was about 12 years old, I was walking home from the pool with a friend who was acting like anything but a friend. She began teasing me about my body, and even after almost 50 years I can still hear her taunts. Her words were unkind, uncalled for, and untrue. But I was a child, and I had the perspective of a child.
Lies took hold in my young heart causing me to doubt my worth. And sadly, I didn’t feel safe enough to process the encounter with anyone. It’s taken years to undo what my friend did in just a few seconds.
“Jason” remembers being five years old and feeling rejected by his older cousins who didn’t let him join in a game because he couldn’t read. He determined that he would excel in school so as to never feel that rejection again. It led to a performance-based striving for significance. As an adult he’s learned to recognize the lies that took hold in that vulnerable moment earlier in his life. He’s found scripture to help him understand his true worth and acceptance in Christ. His need to excel has been replaced with a desire to live out of the truth of who He is in Christ and all that He has done for him.
As a child, I understood the power of words to wound. But I certainly didn’t understand how deep those wounds could go or their ability to resonate in a mind for years or decades. I didn’t realize that they could actually inhibit spiritual growth or lead to false beliefs related to identity or worth.
As you think back to your own childhood, perhaps some scathing words reverberate in your mind. Though you don’t remember every hurtful thing said or done to you, certain memories have remained because of the circumstances or the deliverer or insecurities you may have felt at the time.
When we are wounded in any way, whether physically or emotionally, the pain is real. The enemy of our souls sees that we are vulnerable. He often will whisper a lie in that moment and because the pain we feel is real, we believe the lies. Lies can turn into identity statements or feelings of worthlessness. Without a safe place in which to process the pain, these lies can remain rooted for years or even decades, crippling us emotionally and often stifling spiritual growth.
Even in the best of families, children are still children, and mean words can fly between kids faster than a coronavirus, especially during times of quarantine or social distancing. Can you relate?
While words can hurt, wound, and even scar us, words can also redeem and heal.
Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24).
My brother-in-law introduced our family to a practice that his family has used for years. They call it “Esteeming,” and it typically occurs on a family member’s birthday when all the guests are invited to share a few words of affirmation. To esteem means to regard someone or something with respect, admiration, or appreciation. “Esteeming” can do a lot to counteract wounding words.
I’d like to encourage you and your family to adopt your own version of esteeming each other. Here are some ideas for how you could do that in day-to-day living.
- Make a point to share privately with each of your kids the power of words and the value of building each other up, noticing the good, and seeing beyond the character flaws of another member of the family. Teach your kids how to esteem others by modeling it. As you notice them being kind or working hard or trying new things, tell them in a few words what character trait you are seeing.
- Consider designating one night a week “Esteeming Night.” Affirming words could be shared over dinner or during a family time afterwards.
- Maybe esteeming by mom or dad could become a part of the nightly bedtime routine with each child.
- Written notes of affirmation can be very powerful also. Find ways to do this in your household.
- Extend the love beyond your immediate family through notes or phone calls to those who are in your hearts but not present physically.
- Encourage your kids to esteem their friends and even those they struggle to like, reminding them that we are all created in the image of God which means there is innate worth in every individual.
As you continue to nurture the tender hearts in your care, seize the power of life-giving words. Let such words become like a second language to you and your loved ones. Try this with your spouse if you’re married, or others that you know and care about. May your words be a healing balm for wounded and weary hearts, and see how God will use them for good.
Founder and CEO, TrueNorth Freedom Project, Atlanta, GA.
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Photo by Jude Beck