STICKS & STONES
I can still remember the occasional grade school confrontation. Usually taking place on the schoolyard at recess and always over the most important things, like if someone had stepped out of bounds, if the goal crossed the invisible line, or if grazing of someone's t-shirt while being “it” counted as an official tag.
Do you remember any moments like this?
Soon after, sides based on opinion would form as eye-witness accounts were simultaneously being presented. The teacher on “yard duty” would often be occupied bringing peace to a neighbouring courtroom, so in absence of a judge and jury, we’d take justice into our own hands. This is where things would become personal, beginning with generic insults and standard put-downs. WIttingly responded to with the air-tight “I’m rubber and you’re glue” defense. And now, without a resolution in sight and court still in session next door, things escalate and become more hurtful. Someone cleverly responds with “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” to curb the name-calling. From there, another reveals a member of opposing counsel’s “crush” and then, without fail, someone begins to boldly run through the list of those who are no longer invited to their upcoming Birthday party. This leads to a plea-bargain, as last year this individual not only had a sleepover … they also have a pool!
Maybe this sounds familiar?
The truth is, I think I’d prefer to risk being hit with a stick or a few stones than have someone choose to use their words to wound me. I’ve broken a few bones and they’ve healed; however, the cruel and less than kind things others have said to me…well, they’re quite often harder to heal from and nearly impossible to forget.
I can still remember sitting at the dinner table with my Mom and Dad and giving them the play-by-play breakdown of all that had transpired. I could remember most of the details, what was said, and often who said it. Rarely did the hurtful things or rescinded invitations ever just “bounce off me” as my rubber defense stated. The words and actions of my “friends” in those moments were felt and had some measure of effect.
As I stared, face down, at whatever was placed before me on the table my parents would “scrub in”. Our dinner table became an operating table where they’d intentionally remove and replace each word that had impacted me. As their son, they wanted to make very clear who they saw me as and who they knew me to be.
The majority of chapter 18 is about our speech and its effects. Essentially setting out to help us to understand that everything we say has some measure of affect on others and ourselves. This chapter shows great concern for our attitudes and actions. Highlighting how without love for each other and with our fallen flesh at the helm, we mindlessly contribute to the destruction of relationships and community.
“An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels. Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions...The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating. The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts...From the fruit of their mouth a person’s stomach is filled; with the harvest of their lips they are satisfied. The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit...One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” - Proverbs 18:1-2, 6-8, 20-21, 24
It’s foolish for us to instigate pointless “school-yard” quarrels as we pursue selfish ambitions and with audacity fight for the airing of our opinions and truths (18:1-2). And let’s be transparent, these confrontations didn’t cease once we graduated from the schoolyard.
We invite confrontation in as we use our words to belittle those around us at times convincing ourselves of a pardon because perhaps “they started it”. We say things we soon come to regret and almost as quickly as they leave our lips we begin to formulate our pending apology (18:6-8). In a moment a rage and “one-upmanship” forgetting the scriptures that make so clear the power that our tongue carries and its ability to produce life or provoke death (18:20-21). In my opinion and based on personal experiences still being healed from, this makes them far more powerful than any stick or stone. Our carelessness can contribute to the pain of those around us, all while simultaneously dismantling the community He’s empowered us to build.
Thankfully there is a friend that is reliable and dependable (18:24). He has nothing but good things to say of you and has always been and will continue to be on your side.
He is merciful and just. Never preoccupied with the needs of others, to not be present for your acquittal. We’re enabled to bounce back because of not only Who He is, but who He says we are. He knows that words possess power, so with this in mind, if you’ve been wounded at recess; allow Him to “scrub in” and to use whatever room you’re in at this moment as a safe place for Him to remind you of who you are. That you have been chosen. That He sees you and His thoughts of you number greater than you or I can comprehend. That you are more than a conqueror. You’ve been adopted. You’re an heir. And in His eyes, you were worth dying for.
So choose today to not forget those words and to remember how yours also have purposeful power. Allow His truth to be your identity. Not some selfishly driven rebuke at recess.