I want to begin with a story.
It’s the story of a scared 12-year-old girl in 7th grade at a new school. That year at school would mold her and challenge her for the rest of her life. She loved her teachers and, for the most part, her classmates were nice. But there were cliques, and she didn’t fit into any of them. She was the new kid, the one who didn’t fit in. She was the one who was laughed at and talked about – not nicely – behind her back. For the most part, she was the outcast. Every place has its bully and it was no different for this small school. That bully targeted her. She walked into school every day wondering what he would say about her today. If she made a list of the mean things that were said about her, she would have a very long list, one that includes being called a “slut”.
But there is one particular day that she hasn’t been able to shake.
She was in Spanish class and the teacher asked her a question. She struggled a lot with foreign languages, but the teacher did her best to help her. As she struggled to come up with the answer to the teacher’s question, she heard the bully, who sat in the seat behind her, say one word: idiot. She doesn’t remember much of what happened after that, but she remembers the teacher standing up for her and making the kid apologize. That word has been something she has thought about nearly every day since. It took a huge toll on her and how smart she thought she was. She lost confidence in herself over the years when it came to learning. But now, almost 4 years later, as she begins to face college, she refuses to let it stop her any longer and believes she can do it. This is the impact that words have had on a 13-year-old girl.
That girl in the story? That’s me. Some of my worst days were in that year. But I don’t want you to think that I hate that whole year; a lot of good came because of it. A few amazing friendships came out of that school. My best friend and I met in that school. I am who I am today because of that year and what took place in that building. To the teacher who stood up for me, thank you. You will never know how much that means to me that you did that.
But I am not the only person who has been affected by harsh words. People are affected by harsh words every single day.
There is a poem by Ruby Redfort that I think sums this all up very well.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me.
Stones and sticks break only skin, while words are ghosts that haunt me.
Slant and curved the word-swords fall, it pierces and sticks inside me.
Bats and bricks may ache through bones, but words can mortify me.
Pain from words has left its’ scar, on mind and hear that’s tender.
Cuts and bruises have not healed, it’s words that I remember.”
Speaking harsh words toward someone is cruel and unloving. It is being a bully; and being cruel, unloving, and a bully is not what the Bible says to do. The Bible instructs us to be loving, kind, and uplifting.
“Gracious words are like honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and healthy to the body.” (Proverbs 16:24 ESV)
My family and friends have spoken thousands of kinds words towards me over the years, but there is one that is my favorite. It happened not that long ago. I was on the phone with someone close to me when they randomly said, “I’m proud of you”. That meant so much to me. They were sincere when they said it and they truly meant it. I’ve replayed the moment in my head a hundred times since then. From when I wake up, to when I’m struggling to push through what is sitting in front me; when I’m tired, emotionally and physically, to when I fall asleep, I replay “I’m proud of you”.
Hearing kind words is amazing. It is encouraging and uplifting. When some genuinely encourages you, it can make a lasting impact. Some push through the harsh words spoken towards them and move on. Others don’t. Harsh words can be the undoing of someone. But a kind word is what can begin to heal them. It healed me. Having so many people speak kind words over me and into my heart has helped me for when words like “slut” and “idiot” pop back into my head.
I want you to remember this as you go through life. Words hurt, but they can also encourage. Choose how you use your words. Think before speaking, as what you say may affect someone for years to come.
If you are someone who is being bullied now, do not hesitate to speak up. I know it is scary. Trust me, I do. But speak up and stand up for yourself. Never believe what a bully tells you. You are beautiful, loved, and worth so much more than you could ever know.