By Rev. Ann Mann
Words have the power to hurt or to heal. I saw a dad “lose it” with his child in the grocery store. Another person witnessed it as well. And we both just walked on by, trying to be invisible to avoid embarrassing the child any further. The dad did not hit the child. If he had, I would have stepped in. Instead, he was verbally abusive.
It made me wonder, if he acted like this in public, how did he act in private? I have prayed for the father and for his child, and for everyone who lives in their home. I have prayed this father would learn the healing power of words.
The healing power of words is something I am keenly aware of in my own life. My husband passed away right after we moved into our new home. Whatever was not unpacked has remain unpacked for the past year and a half.
Some have been critical of my lack of motivation to move forward. And that criticism hurts. It also does nothing to help motivate me toward action. Proof that our words have the power to lift people up or tear them down.
Our words are the fruit of our emotions. Emotions like a critical spirit, jealousy, distrust, irritability, touchiness, are fruit of a poisonous tree.
As I read through scripture, it is clear God longs for us to cleanse ourselves of this poisonous fruit. Just one example is 2 Corinthians 7:1, “Beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.”
Our words matter. They can lift people up or tear them down.
A critical spirit, jealousy, distrust, irritability, touchiness are emotions that live within all of us. It is when we let them spill into our words and actions that we have problems.
Proverbs 14:32 reminds us that the righteous find refuge in their integrity. We have integrity when we develop the discipline to deal with these hurtful emotions before they spill out into our words and actions and wound others.
One of the most important steps we can take to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit” is to hit the pause button when we feel jealousy, impurity, a critical spirit, irritability, touchiness or distrust boiling up inside.
Instead of doing, or saying something we will regret, take a deep breath, pray, and try to remain calm. One of the things we teach in Kairos prison ministry is to learn how to respond instead of reacting.
When we respond, we take a breath. We consider the consequences of our words and actions before we speak or act.
When we react, we speak or act before we think. And when we speak or act in haste, that is often when our words and actions are most hurtful.
One of the movies my husband Kim and I watched over and over was “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It is a romantic comedy about two people with a budding online romance who are unaware they are also business rivals in real life.
In one of their online conversations, Meg’s character talks about how she can never seem to come up with just the right “zinger” when talking to the owner of the big bad chain store that threatens to put her “Shop Around the Corner” out of business.
Then in one of her in person encounters with Tom Hanks’ character, she comes up with that elusive “zinger.” But it was not as satisfying as she thought it would be. In fact, she regretted ever having said it. The “zinger” did not reflect who she really was at heart.
After the zinger she realized that what she said was cruel. And she was never cruel. And even though she doubted what she said mattered to “that man,” what if it did? So, instead of doing, or saying something we will regret, take a deep breath, pray, and RESPOND instead of REACT.
As a believer in Christ, I realize that Christ alone can cleanse us of our poisonous fruit. And so, I surrender my every thought, word and deed to Christ every moment of every day. Only then am I in a better position to use words that heal.
Ann Mann is an Emmy Award winning journalist, now serving as pastor to Barnesville First United Methodist Church. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.