Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sticks and Stones

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me"--so goes the childhood response to taunts and name-calling. And the Bible would seem to agree: Prov. 26:2 (NIV) says, "Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest."

Yet in the light of everyday experience, the claim that "words can never hurt" seems almost a mockery. The emotional pain of craving approval and receiving abuse is bad enough; but try telling someone who was forced out of a promising career by the fallout from a jealous colleague's slander, or who was beaten unconscious by a mob stirred up by hate speech, that "words can't do you any harm."

Perhaps the childhood chant should go (even if it spoils the rhythm): "Words alone can never hurt me." Even then, there's the caveat "unless I let them." Which is very hard not to do. Human nature wants to be liked, respected, and admired by everyone, which is why many people will do almost anything--even things they know are wrong--to avoid being criticized. Like the first-century Jews who avoided following Jesus openly for fear of being ostracized (Jn. 12:42-43), most of us "love praise from men more than praise from God."

We would do great things for the Kingdom far more often if the only words we cared about hearing (even at the cost of literal sticks and stones or worse) were the Lord's words from Mt. 25:21 and 25:23:

"Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!"

Sticks and stones may break our bones:
Words have a strength that's stranger;
Though they may not draw spurting blood,
They bulge with hidden danger.
The human fear of "what folks think"
Can make a soul grow sour
Until the lust for mortal praise
Consumes each day and hour.

Sticks and stones broke many bones
Of those who spoke for Jesus,
Who stood against opinion's tide
Proclaiming love that frees us.
Those souls who walk the way of God
And live with humble spirit
Draw angry words, but yet are blessed:
They do God's Word and hear it.

Sticks and stones may break our bones,
Or words sting hard and cruel,
If we disdain all earthly praise
To seek the Heavenly Jewel.
But when we turn our ears to Christ--
Our Lord, the Word made living--
No human power can do us harm,
For God His strength is giving.

Those who seek to save their lives,
Or even reputations,
So often trade eternal praise
For earthly commendations.
But those who live for God alone,
Though all they love be broken,
Will gain the greatest prize of all
When Earth's last words are spoken.

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