You may have noticed I now have an endorsements page on my website. Asking for those endorsements was quite a journey for me, more than I anticipated, putting me face to face with just how powerful words can be in my own life. So I’ve been meditating on the human hunger for words lately and thought I’d share a few things I’m learning.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Remember that playground rebuttal? I remember reciting it to my boyhood antagonists. Oh, did it ever feel so clever, so poetic, so battle worthy. And oh, what a terrible lie, about as useful as a rubber sword. Words hurt and injury much deeper, for much longer than sticks and stones. They just aren’t that easy to forget. In fact, we are designed to be impacted by words. The need for affirmation and blessing is fundamental to being human.
Author Leanne Payne says of us as humans, “We are dialogical beings. We become in dialogue with others.” Let me say that a little bit differently. To be human is to hunger for words. As our lungs breath air and our stomach digests food, so our hearts crave affirmation and absorb blessing. From birth to death, at every age in between, we need dialogue with others. And its this meaningful conversation that shapes our development. We become the words we receive. Our hearts are nourished on them or famished if we do not get them. If we stop receiving these words we stop growing.
Okay, so its not just words alone that do it. The words must come from people with power to bless, from people we want to receive from, from people we trust and let in to our hearts. For children, our parents are the primary place we receive dialogue. Our parents help us learn who we are. Parents rarely realize the power of words. “Good job, son!” or “You’re such a princess, sweety!” can be water on thirsty ground in a child’s heart. Coaches, mentors, close friends also feed our needs. As adults, we listen to spouses and friends and mentors. Yet, this dialogue primarily must come from God if we want to live out our true selves. Through his intimate personal words to us, as we wait in silence for him, we grow up even as adults. As Lottie Hillard has said, “We get snacks from other people. The feast is with God.”
If we do not get nourishing dialogue, or deny our need for it, we will inevitably be susceptible to other voices. A criticism from someone at work will set you spinning. Or that off handed comment you received in high school from a bully will define you years later. Even just the absence of words can echo in your soul their cry of invalidation. We all live in the words we receive from our lives. Our hearts can’t help but ingest them… good or bad.
This is why counseling works so powerfully, by the way. Counseling can be a place to receive nourishing, healing dialogue, a place to find a different voice from all those other “sentences” you’ve lived under your whole life.
So what words, whose words are you growing up into these days?