Powerful words

Have you seen the thing going around on Facebook (you know the thing that’s like the front of a greeting card usually with some funny or deep saying on it)? It reads:

The way we talk to our kids becomes their inner voice.

It gave me pause to read it. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about that topic, on and off since our 7 year old was born. Being a parent is like that; you think about important things, maybe make changes in your life, then you get caught up in making sure everyone has sandwiches for lunch and clean underwear and then holy cow, has it been a year since we talked about that? When our daughter was little, we tried to be encouraging and supportive and vocal in our praise; we felt immensely proud and awed when we heard her little two year old self saying “good job” after putting her doll away. It was working! Our outside encouraging voices were becoming her internal voice! Then once day, I saw her turn to her brother, flip her hair back and sneer “Really?” in an unbelievably sarcastic tone. Oh no! It’s awful; my sarcastic external voice was becoming her internal voice! It doesn’t seem to matter whether we speak kindly or unkindly; whichever way we speak is what becomes the internal voice of our children, and what comes in must go out. Actually, it matters very much how we speak to our kids (and others). You can see my hubby’s post on this issue here; you can tell we have been over this terrain together.

I’ve thought about this as I have witnessed several father/son interactions at our pool in the last few weeks. To the guy’s credit, he is a regular at the pool; he is outside of the house, spending time with his son. But the nature of their interactions is extremely uncomfortable .  The dad rarely says anything nice to the kid; more often it’s critical (“Hurry up! You are always so slow.” “Don’t touch my bag! Get your hands off that!” “Why do you always ruin things?”) What strikes me even more – and I have a physical response to this; I tense up, my stomach ties in knots – is the tone in which the father speaks to his son. The tone says: “I don’t like you. I don’t want to be around you. You are not worth my time. Being around you bugs the crap out of me and I’d rather not be here.”  I don’t like to be around that; I don’t even want my kids to overhear it. I cringe and think, what must that son actually be hearing? That he is annoying, that he is worthless, that he doesn’t deserve to be alive, to be breathing, taking up room on the planet?

When I was in college, I was involved in the organization formerly know as Campus Crusade for Christ (they’ve changed their name to Cru, for good reasons, I think).  We had speakers and retreats and workshops, all of which I attended, and some of which I remember.  One of the things that sticks with me is a staff member Tim Muehloff and his comments about the power of words (I think he even did his PdD dissertation on this):

 (Proverbs 18:21) The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.

I’m not 100% sure what the second half of that means, but I definitely mull over the first half of that verse again and again. Does the tongue actually, really, hold the power of life and death?  The longer I think about it, the more years I have to witness this power, the more times I see a parent berate their child, the many times I fail as a parent and spouse, the more I come to the conclusion that this is absolutely true. Words have power, in fact the power of life and death and we toss them about so carelessly, wounding and scarring others and at the same time withhold life-giving words of praise and encouragement.

The thing is, life is more powerful than death. As someone who believes in a living God and a resurrected Jesus this is a place where the rubber meets the road. God has overcome the power of death when he raised Jesus. That is true; therefore kind, loving, true words overcome evil, hurtful and hateful ones. A kindness spoken is a balm to these  hidden wounds and scars. The more I experience kindness (especially when I least deserve it),  the more I see a child’s face light up when praised, the more I witness kind words between lovers, the more I see hate and self-doubt wither with words of encouragement…the more I know this truth as well.


5 thoughts on “Powerful words

    • Thank you for the kind words. It’s really hard to be consistent, but so worth it in the long run. It helps too, to have an awareness of your own “inner voice” and how that voice got there. Then you can make a decision to listen to that voice or change it.

  1. I completely agree with you!!! Words ARE powerful. TONE is powerful, too. I wish more people would actually understand and get this. It hurts my heart and affects me physically as well to see how some people are with their kids or grandkids. I will have to tell you what happened the other day when I stood up for a child that a mom was HITTING and yelling the F word at….Jen, my stomach was in knots. I almost threw up on the way home and I was shaking so badly. It crossed my mind to call the police…I have said a prayer for that family every day since Saturday when I witnessed this.

  2. I’m sorry you had to witness such an event Claudia. That stinks. I agree tone is important – maybe even more important, because that is what we often remember more than the actual words said. Of course all this is easier said than done, especially as a parent, but it’s vital that we not give up or give in to our own habits (whether laziness or old patterns).

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