Sticks and Stones…And Names Hurt!

I’m sure you remember the children’s rhyme, “Stick and Stones.”  The rhyme dates back to 1872; it was designed to encourage children who were being verbally bullied to rise above the bully’s hurtful words and refrain from any kind of retaliation.  The version familiar to most of us is:

Sticks and stones

will break my bones

but names will never hurt me.

To be sure, stick and stones can break our bones, but if you have ever been on the receiving end of name-calling, you know this chant is just not true.  Names hurt.  Often they hurt far worse and cut more deeply than any stick or stone.  Just ask the child whose father said time and time again, “You’re an idiot!” or “You’ll never amount to anything!” or “I’m sorry we ever had you!” or “You make me sick!” or worse.

Harsh words outlive the days of our youth; they wound us as adults too.  Harsh words, fueled by raw emotion, spill out in a heated argument between a husband and wife where nobody wins.  Then there are those angry outbursts between friends that fracture relationships and often cause their ruin.

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  (Proverbs 12:18)

The Bible makes it clear that our words can either build or destroy . . . heal or hurt . . . comfort or crush.  The words we speak into the lives of others are either considered life-giving (deposits) or death-dealing (withdrawals).

So . . . what does your word bank account balance look like these days?  What would those closest to you say?

I’ve worked as a coach for decades, and I can tell you that the athletic arena of competition is fertile ground for hurtful words.  Countless kids have been driven away—not only out of sports but, out of any kind of physical activity as adults, simply because of the damage done by the words of the reckless—coaches, parents, fans, and other players.

I wince every time I remember my own grievous failure.  I was coaching my son Brock’s little league baseball team.  I was always good at encouraging and lifting up the players, but at times I could be hard on Brock, especially being one of those coaches who never wanted it said that I “played favorites” or “babied” my son.  One night we lost a game that would have put us in the championship game.  When we went into extra innings after a poor decision by Brock that let the tying run score, I singled him out in front of the whole team: “YOU cost us this game!”

It still breaks my heart to think about what I did that night, but I thank God that He has grace enough to cover our mistakes—all of our mistakes.  Now, six years later, Brock is playing for his high school team and I am a dad in the stands cheering him and all the other players on.  Whenever I speak of that awful night when teaching, or preaching, Brock will jokingly say, “You know dad, I’m sure I’ll get over it in a few decades!”

If you have been on the giving or the receiving end of hurtful words know this: the truths of the Gospel have given all those who are in Christ new names—“HIS”!  It is only because Jesus has renamed us in the Gospel as HIS that we are lifted above every damaging and destructive name we have spoken into the life of another or have received ourselves.  Gospel renaming redeems us from a past littered with wicked words, nasty names, and destructive dialogue.  The Gospel empowers us to rise above the names others give to us, knowing that we are HIS, and it empowers us to speak redemptive rhetoric to all those we encounter.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.  (Proverbs 16:24)

And there are no words more gracious, more sweet, and more healing than Christ’s triumphant cry from the cross: “It is finished!”

This is the Gospel.  This is grace for your race.  NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!


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