If you and I were sitting down for a cup of coffee and I asked you to tell me the worst thing anyone had ever said to you, I bet you could recall it without skipping a beat. You’d likely be able to reiterate exactly what was said, where you were, and how it felt in your body as if it had just happened a moment before.
In our best moments, especially as we mature, we are able to differentiate between words that are a true reflection of ourselves and words that reveal pain, anger, or other emotions inside the person who said them. But let’s face it, most of the time, we just accept the words that we hear and internalize them.
Words can be beautiful, uplifting, even freeing. But they can also be ugly, hurtful, and a lifelong burden that shapes who we are.
When I began graduate school, everything was sailing along until a professor gave me a failing grade on a paper. I didn’t understand why it had missed the mark, so I went to talk to the professor. I remember where I was sitting when the prof said to me, “Maybe you’re just not graduate level material when it comes to writing.” That was 27 years ago and I still remember the lightning bolt that went through me hearing those few words as I wondered if they were true.
I’ve been writing professionally for twenty years now. Companies pay me to write! I know those words were not true, yet whenever I sit down to start a writing project, large or small, they echo again in my mind. Every. Single. Time. Twelve words that I will never forget. When I think of that brief encounter, I have wondered how many times I have done something similar to others who have similarly remembered impulsive words that should not have been spoken.
In this time of increased anxiety and depression, I think it is more important than ever that we model using our words carefully and kindly with other adults and the young people among us. That includes what we write online, to both strangers and friends. Hurtful words relayed as humor aren’t funny, especially for children.
Be gentle to yourself too. Let your inner voice speak to the child that is still within you needing to hear kind words.
When we say or write something regrettable, whether accidental or intentional, let our apology be an act of discipleship, as we live out the words of confession and forgiveness. Be ready to say without excuse, “I’m sorry. What I said was neither right nor true. Please forgive me.” And hope that those words are internalized too.