There’s nothing like having a toddler around to remind you of the power of words. My husband and I have a relationship that we describe as “annoying and annoyed”. Can you guess who is who? Because of this, you can usually find him picking on me or teasing me. Occasionally I get in a few good jabs. And, of course, we use lots of words that we would normally discourage others from using:
When you throw in mini-rants against the cat, you can pretty much hear every non-cussword insult that’s used in modern English in our daily lives. Most of it is truly good-natured jesting. Those words not spoken in this manner are usually aimed at the cat.
And, of course, we now have a toddler parroting things back at us, including “Mommy’s a knucky-head.” Whooops….
Fortunately, she has a great sense of humor, too. She’s already learned that most of those words can hurt. However, it does serve as a great reminder.
The Power of Words
There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18 (HCSB)
There are plenty of other stand-alone Proverbs that speak on the power of words, but I love the imagery of this one.
Our words are powerful. We can hurt somebody both willfully and ignorantly when we speak, or we can offer them encouragement and hope. Our words can bring healing to others.
That’s a crazy concept, right? The wording of this proverb means that it is not a simile or metaphor; our words can bring actual healing to others.
While this proverb and concept seems straightforward, there’s actually a lot to learn from this one simple sentence.
The Tone in Which We Speak
We’ve all had an encounter where the manner that somebody spoke rubbed us the wrong way, even though there was nothing technically wrong with the words. Tone is important. My husband and I call it being snippy or short with each other when we answer each other with polite words but use the wrong tone.
People like to say that communication is 97% nonverbal. From somebody who majored in this stuff, that’s actually wrong. However, it’s very true that nonverbal clues or tone is very important to how a message is received.
“…like a piercing sword…”
There are two types of swords: those designed to pierce and those designed to chop. The latter category is deadly because they deal huge but imprecise damage when they strike. Piercing swords, however, deal small but precise damage. This means they can kill a lot more slowly in comparison to the larger swords.
This is what words spoken rashly are compared to: slow blood-loss and excruciating pain.
Rash words are a piercing sword, whether we intend for our words to deal damage or not. Words spoken in the wrong tone are a piercing sword that, over time, can kill our relationships, friendships, and testimonies.
So how do we avoid rashness when we speak? We practice good listening:
- Ask questions before you rush to answer. This gives you a chance to hear more about what the other person is thinking or feeling.
- When you feel defensive, ask for clarification. When we feel upset is the best time to ask more questions. Better yet, directly ask if the other person meant their comment in the way that you took it.
- Echo what the other person says. I don’t believe that you always need to summarize what the other person says, but it does help if you echo some of the same words. Practicing this helps you focus on what the other person is saying.
Learning to Heal Others
Finally, we can see that there’s a caveat to healing words:
…the tongue of the wise brings healing.
The Bible says a lot about both the foolish and the wise. There’s one other important thing that the Bible says about the source of this wisdom:
For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Proverbs 2:6 (HCSB)
There’s also this little bit of advice later on:
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.
James 1:5 (HCSB)
We can only offer true healing with our words when we have a strong spiritual life. By focusing on our relationship with God, we’re also focused on the source of all wisdom in our lives. Now, there are a lot of other connections we can make here, such as the intertwined connection between how the Holy Spirit speaks to us and the importance of learning the Bible.
What is most important to remember here, however, is that we will not be able to offer healing to others unless we are plugged into the source of all wisdom.
- Ask: “Am I offering healing with my words, or are my words a piercing sword to others?”
- Do: Think back on a recent time when your words were a piercing sword to others. Reflect on what you could have done differently.
- Pray: “Dear God, help me to remember to speak wisely to others. Remind me that wisdom comes from you. Amen.”