I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know. For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst~ Job 32:17-19 NIV
My father-in-law died seventeen years ago without warning from a massive stroke. He was a good man, relatively young and healthy. His death was an enormous shock. Immediately following the funeral one of his work colleagues “comforted” my husband by telling him he could “relate to his grief” because his dog had died the week before.
I know a man in his sixties who still remembers with tears in his eyes the sting of having his first-grade teacher tell him he was struggling to learn to read because he was “dumb.”
I have a who friend suffered through the heartache of infertility and several miscarriages before giving birth to two healthy children. After each miscarriage at least one person told her she should be grateful she miscarried because “there was probably something wrong with it anyway”.
If had a dollar for every time some nitwit encouraged me in an overly calm tone to “just relax” when freaking out was clearly the reasonable option, I would be writing from a lawn chair on a sunny beach right now.
Anyone who has lived longer than a decade in this world has undoubtedly been the casualty of stupid, hurtful or just plain thoughtless words. The most painful kind of hurtful words are words that attack things about ourselves that we cannot change, such as our looks or intellectual abilities. Insensitive words wound by getting inside our heads and altering how we see ourselves and view the world.
God has a lot to say on the subject of words. The writer of Proverbs cautions his readers:“The tongue has the power of life and death.” 1st Corinthians thirteen teaches one significant aspect of loving others well is avoiding the use of rude or boastful words (1st Corinthians 13:4-5). In Matthew 12:36 Jesus warns of looming judgment for those who habitually speak without carefully considering the impact their words might have on others.
Decent, mature people universally agree words should never be spoken impulsively nor should they be unnecessarily rude (Proverbs 16:21). Nor should anyone speak without quickly considering how they would feel if someone said the same thing to them in the same situation (James 1:19).
All that being said, how we respond to the stupid stuff people say to us, is from a spiritual perspective, every bit as important as being careful about what we say to others. Responding with grace to hurtful words begins with the sometimes-difficult admission that we too have hurt others with our words just as we have been hurt by the thoughtless words of other people. I once informed a boy who declared his affection for me in a love note that I would never return his feelings because he “smelled weird” (proof-positive mean things are also sometimes true). I still squirm when I think about some of the hurtful “guidance” I hastily doled out to others when I was beyond old enough to know better.
There is an inclination in our day and age for people, even Christian people, to take hurtful words to heart and nurture their hurt by ruminating on hurtful words rather than choosing to forgive and move on (Proverbs 19:11). Nurturing hurt does nothing but create a breeding ground for bitterness and inevitably leads us to use our wounds as a justification to:
- Shut the offender out of our lives completely.
- Gossip about their lack of empathy to any who will listen.
- Freak out, say whatever is on OUR minds and then demand an apology that the offender probably won’t mean even if they do say it.
All of the above reactions feel great but are categorically wrong and spiritually dangerous (Proverbs 10:19, James 4:11, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 17:9, Proverbs 27:10). Each reaction feeds our sin nature, shuts down communication and effectively ends the relationship. Offense and unresolved hurt over careless words are the devil’s preferred playground (1st Peter 5:8) .
Offense keeps us self-focused, bitter and unable to see ourselves or others clearly (Proverbs 18:19, Hebrews 12:15, James 3:14).
Letting go of hurt is not an easy thing to do and it is rarely a one and done. We have to discipline our minds to take the hurt we feel to God and ask Him to empower us to let go of hurt, rather than nurturing it and hanging on to it. We must be willing to pray that people who say foolish, mean or hurtful things, will become more self-aware and we must choose forgiveness every time.