The tongue has the power of life and death…
Proverbs 18:21 (NIV)
I once knew a person who was educated, bright, and quite capable. For a short period of time, we were companions on a stretch of the journey. On occasion, we experienced the normal stresses of life, and I observed that this person could get inordinately out-of-sorts. I could watch anxiety and insecurity take over their entire person. In acute moments, they would blurt: “I’M NOT STUPID!”
The thing was, not once when this blurt made its exclamatory appearance did anyone ever hint that our friend was stupid. In fact, no one I knew in our circle would have even thought such a thing. Whenever it happened it was an awkward, inappropriate moment.
I quickly suspected that somewhere in this person’s impressionable childhood years there was a parent, and older sibling, or an adult of significant influence who had repeatedly, in a derogatory fashion, told them they were stupid. Now, the words played in their head like a tape recording on a ceaseless loop.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of leading various groups of people through creativity workshops and classes. One of the key parts of the class is to identify the negative messages in our heads that create resistance to our creative urges. Almost always, these “blurts” are messages planted in our brains when we were young.
- “You’re stupid.”
- “You’ll never amount to anything.”
- “You’re ugly.”
- “Why do you waste your time with that shit?”
- “I wish you were dead.”
I’ve heard so many stories along the way. In some cases, the words were truly evil, and were said with evil intent from a twisted soul. More often, I believe the harmful words were uttered in a moment of parental stress and the adult had no earthly idea that their momentary anger just planted a seed in the soul of a child that would bear rotten fruit in years of self-deprecation and insecurity.
“The tongue has the power of life and death,” says the Sage in today’s chapter.
Never in the history of the world have we, as human beings, had instant access to so many words and voices. Never in the history of the world have we, as human beings, had the ability to broadcast our words from the palm of our hand to the entire world. Never in the history of the world have we, as human beings, had such power, with our words, to be an agent of life or death.
In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about my words. I’m thinking about the words I speak to others. I’m thinking about the words I write and broadcast. I’m thinking about the words and voices I allow, by choice or apathy, to enter my head and heart.
Immediately, God’s ancient words come to mind:
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life…”
(By the way, you’re not stupid.)
3 thoughts on “Words of Life or Death”
The Book of the Lie.
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People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil https://www.amazon.com/dp/0684848597/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_d1fAEbA3775H2
Words kill, words give life;
they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.
Wow, I think I’ve done more killing than life-giving as a parent and husband. It’s humbling and embarrassing to think about. I’ve gotten more measured as I’ve aged, but it seems to be human nature to lash out and takes discipline to hold one’s tongue. I’ve been pretty life-giving with my love to my family too, so I can only hope it balances out in some way. I want to choose to build up not tear down. God help me.