Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
Pretty much everyone knows that words really do hurt. Just a few days ago, my son found out for himself.
We’ve been teaching him how to make friends. Everyday when we pick him up from school we ask him, “Did you make any friends today.” He usually tells us that he did.
“What are their names?”
“I don’t know.”
Wednesday afternoon was different. Wednesday afternoon he played by himself at recess. Right after finding out just how painful words can be.
He took our advice on making friends and approached a kid in his class with a simple question.
“Hey, what are you playing?”
“Cars. Now get out of my face!”
My son was devastated. No one has ever said, “Get out of my face” to my son. Well, except for that time when we had Eminem over for dinner but that was a completely different situation.
My protective instincts started to kick in. I wanted to fix the situation. More specifically, I wanted to fix the Get Out Of My Face Kid. I’m very familiar with the hurtful power of words. I know what it’s like to be made fun of for being the smallest kid. I know the heartache of having someone make fun of me because my face has been overtaken by acne. I know rejection.
Words have hurt me before. And I didn’t want them to hurt my son.
But then I remembered that sometimes hurtful words, in the long run, can be pretty helpful.
Since I’ve been a pastor, there have been a few hurtful names and phrases cast in my direction. Here’s a sample.
“It’s people like you who are ruining this country.”
And that’s just from the kids in the nursery.
Actually, most of those comments are the result of trying to engage people with the gospel. And they’re nothing new. When Paul told us to expect persecution, he wasn’t just talking about being hit with rocks and steel rods (2 Timothy 3:12). He was talking about words too.
When I was a kid, I hated getting made fun of and bullied. Now, I can look back on it as practice. Practice for a life of sharing the gospel with people who may not like what the gospel says.
So I’m kind of glad that some kid yelled at my son the other day. It turned into one of those teachable moments. I got to tell him that doing anything worthwhile, anything significant, would come with criticism and rejection. Even if that worthwhile and significant something was just simply trying to make a new friend.
I’m trying to teach both of my sons to take the Bible seriously. Every night I lay a hand on them and pray that they will love and obey Jesus, love others and care for the lost and hurting. Those things sound simple enough but they usually come with a fair amount of persecution. Remember, Stephen was put to death just for serving tables and preaching a sermon about Jesus (Acts 6:1-7:60).
“Get out of my face!”
My son took that kid’s advice and walked away silently. Downhearted but alive. And ready to try it again the next day. Just like I was, he’s being prepared for a life of gospel devotion.
Sticks and stones hurt. Words do too.
But if we are to be serious about following Jesus we must be prepared to respond to painful words, and even painful sticks and stones, with love and perseverance.