Unintended consequences

“Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you.”

How many times have we heard this lie in our lives?  No adult would ever believe that statement is true but we teach our children not to take seriously what people say.  “Just brush it off” or “Let it go in one ear and out the other.”  While our motivation may be good, what are the unintended consequences of teaching children not to take words seriously?

All of us know people who say things again and again but will come back just as many times and ask us to dismiss what was said because “I was having a bad day.”

Or what of all the times we say hurtful things and then we desperately try to distance ourselves from the very words we say?  “I didn’t mean it, I was just angry” or “It just slipped out, I don’t know where that came from” or another common excuse – “I was just kidding.”    Again, what is the danger of downplaying the significance of the words we say? What are the unintended consequences of doing this over and over again?

First, the more we tell people not to take our words seriously – the greater the danger that they won’t.  People will learn not to listen to us when we talk because we continually come back and tell them not to take us seriously after all.  We want people to let us off the hook when we say things we shouldn’t but then how will they know when to take us seriously and when not to take us seriously?  This calls to mind Jesus’ caution that our yes should mean yes and our no should mean no. (Matt. 5:37)

There is a second even more serious danger when we discount words the way we do.  Not only will we continue to say hurtful things without thinking about the actual effect we are having on others, but what will happen when we hear God speak?  In a context where we don’t take speech seriously, what happens when we hear a clear “Thus sayeth the Lord…”?   If we have consistently practiced the art of dismissing words, what makes us think we will take God seriously when He speaks?  If you doubt this is a problem, look at how many times we say – “I know what God says in His Word, but…”?  This problem of dismissing words is rampant in all our relationships, including our relationship with God.

Words matter.  We need to take seriously the words we speak.   Furthermore, we should begin to hold ourselves and others accountable for what we say.  Only then can we treat words with the proper value they deserve.  Ours and God’s.

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