“Stick and stones. Sticks and stones!” That’s what my mother would say after I had poured out my aching heart for the thousandth time concerning the ugly words spoken about or to me by one friend or another. Did your mother tell you that too? Or did you hear the full sing-song version, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” followed by a poked-out tongue and rolled eyes while playing in the neighborhood park? You know those times when you and your bestest friend in the whole wide world would argue over which of you would mount the slide first, and then one of you would say something hurtful to the other. Sticks and stones!
Those times are plastered throughout my childhood memories. Back then I believed sticks and stones were the only things that could hurt me. However, adulthood left me questioning whether my mother and bestie were wrong. I soon discovered they were right in saying words can’t break bones, but wrong in assuming that bones are the only things that can be broken or hurt. Spirits break too!
My childhood is long behind me now, but the callous handling of powerful words still plagues me. At the root of “sticks and stones” is the flawed way we view the power of words. Just like Mother and Bestie, we sometimes minimize the breadth, depth, and height of the impact a powerful word can have on the life of the hearer. Today I want to remind us—you and me—just how powerful words are. Instead of harping on the negative aspect of sticks and stones, allow me to extract a few positives from and perhaps add a new perspective to, “words will never hurt me.”
Dr. Caroline Leaf, author of The Perfect You, deserves credit for today’s reminder. She brings great biblical insight to the true power of our words. Particularly, she writes, “We are made in the image of a powerful God who brought the earth into existence with his words … and we have this power of words and language invested in us.” (p. 60) Upon reading these words, a tingle of excitement mixed with a dash of empowerment spread from the tips of my toes and burst into my heart and mind with such power that a loud, “yes” escaped my lips. My being on a quiet airplane at the time made that moment less great for my seatmate and those around me. Awkward! But their discomfort did not make the moment any less great for me.
I wasted no time waiting for my loud yes to settle into the atmosphere. Nor was there time for me to check to see what my seatmate thought of my seemingly random outburst. I slammed the book shut and anxiously searched for my Bible and opened to Genesis 1. Three things that every woman needs to know about the power of words jumped out at me.
Words have the power to:
- Shape an empty and formless space into something good and filled with light (Gen. 1:1-3).
- Create and assign purpose (Gen. 1:6-8).
- Produce provision that spans from one generation to the next (Gen. 1:11-13).
Shaping Empty and Formless Spaces
In Genesis 1:1, at the command of God’s words, nothing became something and was filled with light. As ones who have been made in His image and equipped for good work, we too can speak to those assigned to our lives and shape them into the “good thing” God intended. How do we do that? By filling them with the light of God’s Word.
It makes so much sense to me now! The Bible admonishing us to let our minds be like Christ (Phil. 2:5) and telling us that the power of life and death lies in our tongues (Prov. 18:21) don’t just make for good reading. No! Those scriptural passages are the living, breathing, power tools for us to bring shape and light to a formless world. That means we must be intentional with our study of God’s Word, letting it seep into our bellies. In doing so, a natural overflow of living water will envelope us, as well as those around us.
Have you seen what water does to a dying plant that has lost its shape and is void of light? The water strengthens the plant, and it stands up as if reaching for the light. When we encounter the hopeless, our words can reshape their formless frames. As a result, they reach for hope, opening themselves to receive the light of God’s Word.
Creating and Assigning Purpose
Genesis 1:6-8 goes on to say, “Let there be an expanse between the waters, separating water from water … God called the expanse ‘sky.’” God continued creation by assigning it a defining purpose. Chills are running down my spine at the thought! Do you see it? The expanse was put in place and then its purpose was revealed—to separate the waters under from the waters above.
Once you bring shape and form to an empty person by filling them with the light of God’s Word, use your words to assign purpose. My mom did that for me. My Saturday morning chore was cleaning the bathroom. Upon inspecting my inaugural attempt, her eyes lit up, “Michelle, you clean the bathroom better than I do!” Later that day, she shared my success with my grandmother and a few of her girlfriends via telephone. I was so excited! Each Saturday I poured my everything into making every inch of our bathroom shine.
That physical assignment has now become my spiritual purpose as God uses me to help other women begin their journeys toward living spiritually clean lives.
Producing Generational Provision
By the time you read this article, it’s likely my mom will be resting in the arms of the Savior. At this very moment, my siblings and the rest of the family are gathering to say our goodbyes. But her defining purpose will live on because it was planted in me and is now budding fruitful blossoms that will continue to feed generations to come. Genesis 1:11 says, “… Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” The implication here is that the seed-bearing plants will leave remnants—seeds—that will be deposited into the earth for continuous reproduction. My mom is such fruit! When I told Mom about my desire to do ministry, she used her life-giving words to affirm me. She used those same words to speak over my son and niece. Their accomplishments are manifestations of the spiritual seeds Mom planted. Mom’s words of hope, comfort, purpose, and support have already made provision for the generation to follow because her grandchildren are walking toward a horizon broader than any of the generations before has ever known. All because somehow and someway Mom knew sticks and stones would break your bones, but life-giving words will never hurt us!
Brenda Croston, a former educator in the public school system, serves as the Women’s Ministry leader at Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville, TN and is the founder of Simple Truth Publishing. She is on the cusp of releasing her first book, The Strange Language of Ducks: A Biographical Journey Through the Female Experience. Brenda holds a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and a Master of Education, both from Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia. Blessed to have met and married the love of her life, Mark, they have the pleasure of parenting four children with the added bonus of two granddaughters, London and Phenix. On a lazy day, you can find Brenda wrapped in a fuzzy blanket feeling grateful for every aspect of the life God has allowed her to live.