“As a tree gives fruit, healing words give life, but dishonest words crush the spirit.” Proverbs 15:14 NCV
In a conversation I had this week, I was asked, “Can someone else know what I want better than I do?” Earlier in the week another person, telling me about the frustration of dealing with non-medical people who want to manage his healthcare issues, said, “They tell me what I should do and where I can go!” Then he added. “Do they know better than me what is best for me?”
To the first person, I asked, “Do these people live inside your body?” After a “No!” response, I continued, “You are the only one who accurately knows what you think, how you feel, and what you want, because you are the one who lives in your body. People who do not live inside of you do not know what you think and how you feel.” To the second person, I said, “Do you know what you are capable of doing and not doing?” To the “Yes!” response, I said, “Then, why would you need to listen to people who tell you to do things differently?”
How sad it is when we allow someone else to tell us what we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we need, and what we want! Why would we do this? There are lots of reasons, but one cause might be that we are experiencing emotional abuse—something that many people experience but few recognize and understand. In her book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, Leslise Vernick, gives a clear description of emotional abuse and effects on us.
The quote (in Leslie’s book) by Robert Fulghum that states, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts”[i] stands in contrast to the proverb I grew up with—“Sticks and stones will hurt your bones but words will never hurt you.” Talking about the destructiveness of words Eugene Peterson says, “It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.”[ii]
Why is it so difficult for some people to know what they think, feel, and want? Often, it’s because they have been injured by destructive words and/or told by someone else what they should think, feel, and say. By doing these things, they’ve given another person the power to define them and the power to control them, The sad consequences are that if for many years we don’t (in some way) voice what we feel, think, and want, after awhile we become confused; we lack self-confidence; we lose touch with our heart desires, and we don’t even know who we are.
Even God, who does know our thoughts and desires, doesn’t program us to think his thoughts. He gives us choices. He describes to us the healthy and wise ways of living and tells us what the accompanying blessings will be; he describes unhealthy and foolish ways of living and tells us what the destructive consequences will be; then, he leaves it up to us.
If we believe that the words Jesus speaks to us are true, then we will be healed from the pain of emotional abuse, and our abusers will no longer have power us. Testifying of that, Leslie Vernick says, “Without a doubt, my mother’s words and actions caused harm to me as a young child. Even as an adult, she had the power to devastate me with her tongue—until I stopped letting her. As long as I believed her words were more true than God’s word, she had the power to destroy me—because I gave it to her.”[iii]
There will always be people in this world who ignore us, put us down, or devalue us in some way. But how much destruction their words and behavior will produce in our lives depends not on what they choose to say but on what we choose to believe and accept.
What words will you hang on to in 2016?
[i] Leslie Vernick, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship (Harvest House: Eugene, OR., 2007), p. 63.
[ii] James 3:5-6 in The Message
[iii] The Emotionally Destructive Relationship p. 66