“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That was the taunt thrown in return in the verbal wars of my childhood. It was hard! One’s heart, soul, everything that one knew that defined one’s self was under threat. Maybe I had no worth. Perhaps it would have been better if I never existed. There was a chance that scum was better than I was. Each of these things could be true if I believed the words of kids that did not fully comprehend what they were doing. Even then, I yelled back the answer I had heard from others never quite believing my rhetoric.
I find the defensiveness of our child years never quite leaves us. An exchange between two people on the subway reminds me of how vulnerable we are to words. They are painful! They hurt. They leave a mark that does not fade as quickly as a bruise. Even if there is a thread of truth, we act to protect ourselves. “Look! The Master, God, is right here. Who would dare call me guilty? Look! My accusers are a clothes bin of threadbare socks and shirts, fodder for moths!” (Isaiah 50.9)
Occasionally I witness someone wiser than I respond to accusations. It is as if the wise elder, monk, and teacher hiding within every community comes out in the open. Accusations find kind words in response. Anger meets compassion. Frustration confronts patience and mercy. In each case the quiet, peace filled voice wrapped in love tears evil words from their foundation. The nonviolent response powerfully puts the ugly side of humanity in its place.
I find myself, in the midst of a rainy summer morning, wondering if I have really learned from my childhood. Am I willing to admit that words hurt? Am I willing to understand how easily I touch the heart and soul of others, if only to cause pain? Am I willing to let God deal with me from the inside out? Healing when needed. Comforting when required. Correcting, nurturing, and leading when allowed.
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