Have you ever tried to go 24 hours without saying something negative about another person? If you are like most people, you shrug off little “white” lies, slander, and gossip as “only words.” Words that are not meant to hurt or belittle anyone, become hurtful and harmful when not taken seriously.
Your Words Matter
Your words matter. As a leader, people pay attention to what you say and how you say it. Your words can and do shape the reality of the people who hear them. The Bible clearly states the influence of words, teaching that God created the world with words.
In his book, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes, “Like God, human beings also create with words. We have all had the experience of reading a novel and being so moved by the fate of one of its characters that we felt love, hate, or anger. Sometimes we cried, even though the individual whose fate so moved us never existed. All that happened was that a writer took a blank piece of paper, and through words alone created a human being so real that he or she was capable of evoking our deepest emotions.”
Words are tangible and powerful
I think that is one reason Paul wrote to the newly formed church in Ephesus while instructing them on how to live as followers of Jesus, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 The Good News Bible)
I am writing today to ask you to consider the impact of your words. Are you able to go one day without saying something negative about another person? Let’s try an experiment to discover if you can. Use the pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to discover how you do.
Keep in mind, just as who you are is how you lead, what you say and how you say it reflects who you are as a person and as a leader.
Read John 8:1-11
And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger.
They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”
She said, “No one, sir.”
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.”
Most people when they read this story get stuck on the woman, adultery, the Law of Moses, or on Jesus’ action of writing in the dirt. Some get stuck on the “Neither do I condemn you,” as a sign of forgiveness. Others get stuck on, “Go, and…don’t sin anymore” as an example of grace and transformation. Regardless of what part of the story speaks to you, there is something to learn here.
Screaming at Trees
Robert Fulghum, in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, tells a story of the Solomon Islanders. Some of the villagers practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, the natives cut it down by yelling at it.
Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.
Those poor naïve people. Screaming at trees. Too bad they don’t have the advantages of modern technology and science. I don’t yell at trees. I may yell at televisions, cars, drivers of other cars, my wife, and my children.
What Good Does it Do to Yell?
I even shake my fist and yell at God sometimes. I have heard people, educated people yet at umpires, officials, coaches, and players and they are not even at the game. People yell at step ladders, televisions, computers, and machines. Especially machines. Machines and family get most of the yelling.
What good does it do? Machines and things just sit there. Even hitting and kicking them doesn’t help. As for people, the Solomon Islanders might have a point. Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. You remember the words, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words – they break my heart.”
Words that Cut to the Soul of People
You don’t even have to yell. All you have to do is speak. In her book, The Cracker Factory, Joyce Rebeta-Buritt, tells of a woman by the name of Cassie. She drinks too much and is hospitalized for emotional distress. She writes a letter to her brother, Bob. This is part of what she writes:
“It’s been one hell of a year. I’ve been running around half crazy, trying to remember whatever it is Alexander (her psychiatrist) said I learned in the hospital the last time. Bob, I don’t even know. I just know that I’m coming unraveled and can’t seem to stop it. It’s been a whole year of Charles’ (her husband) running off and slamming doors when I need him. I tell him I’m sick and he says, “You’re telling me? I’m sick of your sickness.” And…bam…out the door.
He looked at me one night and said, “Cassie, you’re a loser.” Bob, when I stand on Judgment Day to hear myself condemned to hell, it will be no more devastating and irrevocable than Charlie’s “You’re a loser.” Forever defective. Forever doomed. No hope at all.”
Your Words Can Shape the World
Your words matter. As a leader, you shape the world and the reality of the people who hear your words. Just reflect upon it for a moment, God, who has had every right to yell at us, has shaped our reality by sending us an encouraging Word. God, who could yell and say, “I’ll love you when you get your act together,” did not spare his only son, but gave him up for us all. God’s encouraging Word is Jesus.
In the scripture for today, Jesus said to the crowd ready to stone the woman, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” I think these words are the most overlooked and dismissed in the story. It is easy to miss the point of God’s grace. I mean, it is just words. “Sticks and stones…but words…do great harm. So, are you ready? Are you able to go one day without saying something negative about another person?
If you are without sin, say your harmful and hurtful words. But, if you know God’s Word made flesh in Jesus, use “helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.”
O God, thank you for your Word made human in Jesus. Forgive me when I forget how powerful your Word is in my life and I use words that hurt and harm. By your grace, give me clear thinking so that what I say will provide what is needed to help others become who you created them to be. Use my words as an instrument of your love and peace in the lives of the people you have given me to love and service. In Jesus’ name. Amen
So, how did you do today? Were you able to go the whole day without saying something negative about another person? Give God thanks for the opportunities you have had today to love others as God has loved you. Where did you use encouraging words today? How were your words received? How were you aware of the words of others? What was said and how could it have been said differently? Think about this, your words reflect who you are and who you are is how you lead.