Remember this little saying from elementary school?
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
We chanted it and thought it was funny, but truthfully, we didn’t have a clue what it meant. We just liked it ‘cause it rhymed! And it seemed like a good thing to shoot back, whether we understood its meaning or not, if anyone dared to hurt our feelings.
Growing up a bit brought the undoubted revelation that it was, indeed, a lie, and in fact, compared to the pain a person’s words can bring, sometimes we’d rather deal with sticks and stones. I’m sure you’re like me and you’ve got your own stories of people who used their words to bring you harm. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes not, but the damage remains the same.
A number of years ago, I was in a conversation with a mother whose little boy, not more than a few years old, stood nearby. Out of the clear blue, he looked up at me and blurted, “You’re fat.” The poor mom was mortified and made him apologize, and as a mom myself, I fully understood the unfiltered speech of little ones, who are just calling it like they see it. I was able to rationalize it away and let it go.
And yet, later that night, I had a good cry, because his words did, indeed, hurt my feelings, somewhere deep inside where I didn’t let anyone near. You know why?
Because his words echoed the voices in my own head. I heard my thoughts spoken with his voice. He simply articulated everything I was already afraid might be true. It was like his little voice clicked BOLD, ITALIC, UNDERLINE on the things I already believed. The irony? I had just lost ten pounds and was feeling pretty good about myself. But hearing him only reinforced everything I had always feared and confirmed that someone else saw me the same way I did. His words matched my thoughts.
The reverse can also be true. Sometimes its my voice that gives utterance to the enemy’s thoughts. “I’m a mess. I have no will power. I need to get my act together. Things will never change.” Each and every one of these statements can only be qualified as a Big. Fat. Lie. You know why? Because they are all rooted in deception and spouted from the mouth of the ultimate liar, the enemy of our souls. “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies,” (John 8:44). And somehow, in the process of vocalizing what I’ve heard whispered in my ear, it becomes truth to me, and I begin to believe it, to repeat it, to act on it.
How in the world do we discern what is true and what is not when it all becomes a big tangled mess inside our heads? There’s only one strategy for this: we need to be very careful about which thoughts and which voices match up.
This reminds me of the game “Memory,” where the goal is to overturn two tiles or cards that are identical. If they match, good for you. You earn points and the chance to try again. If they don’t match, you lose the round, and the cards are turned upside down. So what if we applied this strategy to the things we think about ourselves? Any time a thought or idea pops into our minds, we should compare it to what the Bible says about us. And if it doesn’t match up? Flip that card upside down and move on. When the enemy tosses out labels like unloved, unwanted, unacceptable, or unnoticed, we say, “Sorry, no match! You lose!” You know what else? Tell him his turn is over and then move on.
Because ultimately, the truth about us will not be found on the lips of other people or the annals of our own minds. Identity is not found through thinking harder about ourselves and weighing our strengths and weakness, our pros and cons. It’s not found in seeing how we stack up next to someone else, which is all relative anyway. And it’s surely not found in the mirror or on the pages of People magazine.
The truth about you, the real you, is found in the heart of Christ. He alone can take what you feel and align it with what you know, that you are loved, wanted, accepted, and noticed. He can match our reality with our theology. The sticks and stones found in the words of others may still come flying at you sometimes, but when the voices in your head start reminding you that you are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and set apart (Jeremiah 1:5), nothing else really matters. Match your thoughts with the words of God and you will win every time. It’s a guarantee.