The Power Of My Words

The Power Of My Words - Family Matters Part 3

January 28, 2018

 

THE POWER OF MY WORDS

Family Matters - Part 3

January 28th, 2018

 

None of us aspires to be discouraged, depressed, angry, anxious, or worried.  And yet, it is common enough to experience those emotions.  But when people have to walk on eggshells around us because we feel like that on an ongoing basis, or when our speech is characterized by negativity, sarcasm, insults, outbursts of anger, and the like, we may begin to wonder what’s wrong with us.

 

I. AM I PREPROGRAMMED TO FEEL BAD?

 

Possibly, we may feel that we are preprogrammed to feel bad about ourselves, about life, about others.  We may feel preprogrammed to be critical or judgmental - first of all, when it comes to how we think about ourselves ...and secondly, as a consequence, when it comes to how I treat and how I speak with others?

 

The authors of the Bible, including those who wrote Proverbs, knew that how we think determines to a significant degree, who we are and how we experience life.

 

As a man thinks within himself, so he is.

                                                          Proverbs 23:7

 

In biblical days, the seat or center of thought was believed to be the heart.  So the heart was understood to determine to a significant degree who we are and how we experience life. 

 

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. [some translations: for from it springs up life]                                                                          Proverbs 4:23

 

Since the seat or center of thoughts was considered to be the heart, this verse from Proverbs 4 could just as well have said, “above all else, guard your minds, for it is the wellspring of life.”  for from it springs up life.

 

Above all else - that is how important this is, because, to to a large degree, how we think about the circumstances of our lives determines how we experience life.  Either as something good ... a wellspring ... life itself, or something bad ... a bad-spring ... a well of death.

 

What we think, our thoughts, should be protected in some way, shape or form.  When I was a child, it was my parent’s job to protect my mind, but as an adult, that’s up to me. 

 

However, protecting our minds or thoughts is not in reference to shutting down logic or reason.  It really speaks about protecting our thinking from false, destructive, discouraging, and damaging messages.

 

If we protect our hearts or minds in this way, then the result should be both better physical and emotional health ... life.

 

A heart at peace gives life to the body ....

                                                          Proverbs 14:30

 

A happy heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.                          Proverbs 17:22

 

A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.                                    Proverbs 15:13

 

All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the happy heart has a continual feast.          Proverbs 15:15

 

The first two of these verses speak about the physical benefits of having a cheerful, happy, joyous, joy-filled, positive heart, that is, when a person thinks cheerfully, happy and positive thoughts then it brings life and healing. 

 

Life itself is just so much better when someone has a happy heart, happy thoughts.

 

I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a heart that is happy, joyous, joy-filled and at peace than a heart that is broken, crushed or oppressed. 

 

The condition of our heart, depends in part of what happens to us.  There is heartache and heartbreak ... and most of us will experience this in our lives.  But the condition of our heart will also be determined by how we think about life, how we view ourselves, what we think of others and how we process what happens to us.   

 

Whether we realize it or not, most of us were raise with a host of negative messages that have imbedded themselves into our minds.  Those messages may have come originally from our parents or grandparents, our siblings, or other family members.  They may have come or been reinforced by our peers, fellow students, co-workers, supervisors, religious leaders, teachers, coaches, spouses, and most often by ourselves.  The negative messages may have sounded something like this:

 

  • You’re weak, incompetent, clumsy, useless;
  • You’re too old, too young;
  • You’ll never amount to anything;
  • You’re just a boy; or ... you’re just a girl;
  • You’re a loser, a failure, a disappointment;
  • You’re no good, bad, evil;
  • You’re ugly, fat;
  • Nobody loves you, cares for you, likes you;
  • You’re stupid, dumb, not smart enough,
  • You’re not fast enough, not strong enough;
  • You can’t change, you’re stuck, you’ll never get better, you’re hopeless. 

 

Such negative messages about oneself are reinforced by discouraging messages that point out that things are hopelessness and will never change for the better: 

 

  • It’s no use, life will always be hard;

  • If anything, things are going to get worse;

  • You’ll always be disappointed;

  • You can’t win;

  • You don’t have a chance;

  • You might as well give up;

  • There are no happy endings;

  • Love is for the birds;

  • People are awful;

  • Nobody cares;

  • You can’t trust anyone;

  • It’s never what you know but always who you know. 

     

    This reminds me of the wife of Job:  Just get on with it already - curse God and die! (Job 2:9).[1] 

     

    There are a number of reasons why people tell negative or discouraging messages:

     

  1. One reason why someone puts another person down or tries to discourage them is to spare them the pain of disappointment.  Be as pessimistic as I am, lower your expectations, and then you won’t be as hurt as I was.

  2. Sometimes a put-down is meant to motivate another person to do better.  The fact that negativity is really a demotivates in most instances is forgotten.

  3. Another reason for negative and discouraging messages is to hit back when a person is hurt or feels rejected or attacked.  When we are hurt, we all have a tendency to become hurtful, to strike out, in order to hurt the other person’s feelings.

  4. Sometimes people tell us negative messages in order to make themselves feel better about themselves.  If they can make us feel small, in their eyes, but particularly in our own eyes, it allows them feel superior

  5. Another common reason to send negative messages is to gain control.  It is meant to destroy someone’s self-worth in order to manipulate them into doing what a person desires. 

 

Obviously, when a child hears negative messages repeated, then he or she will end up owning them. 

 

By the way, I did a bit of research on the prevalence of violent crimes against children in Canada.  Obviously the stats don’t show the whole picture because they do not cover unreported violent crimes against children.[2]  2015 stats Canada figures notes that about 8% of children and youth report sexual abuse, that boys are more likely than girls to be victims of violence, that male victims are abused sexually by non-relatives, that aboriginal people have higher rates of abuse, that reported family violence is highest in the territories (Nunavut being the worse), followed by Saskatchewan and Manitoba (PEI the lowest, then Ontario)

 

When children are victimized physically, it severely damages a child’s self-esteem, self-talk, and self-image. But words in and of themselves can also be highly damaging.

 

Whether we liked them or not, as young children, destructive and hateful verbal and non-verbal messages impressed themselves indelibly into our minds.  We believed them because we lacked the ability to question them or to reject them. 

 

With age we should gain the ability to choose to challenge these negative messages, but we often we don’t. 

  • At times that is because we aren’t even aware that we have them. 

  • At other times it is because we’re reinforce these negative messages by parroting them back to ourselves. 

 

But I guess one of the worst side effects is that we sometimes use the very words that hurt us, and turn them on our own children or grandchildren or spouses.

 

We need to become aware of the negative messages and suggestions that come from others and from ourselves so that we are no longer at the mercy of these comments for one, and stop from repeating them on the other.

 

If we listen to the negative tapes that fill our minds, we will lack the confidence to change.  They can and will sabotage our ability to relate properly to others. 

 

Why?  Because healthy self-esteem and damaged self-esteem manifest themselves in various ways:

 

 

Healthy self-esteem

Damaged self-esteem

Humble

Proud, arrogant, boastful, need to impress others, self-righteous

Self-accepting, I like myself

Self-loathing, self-hate

Thick skinned

Easily offended & upset

Encouraging towards others, building them up

Putting others down

Altruistic, caring

Self-centred, uncaring

Easy going

Angry

Flexible

Need to control others

Able to admit mistakes and shortcomings, and to apologize

Always have to be right, it’s always the other person’s fault

 

This list is by no means inclusive - they are just a few of the things I came up with - but you can tell that if someone’s self-esteem is damaged, whether they are aware of it or not, it can make them negative, selfish, angry, hurtful and easily offended individuals - which in turn has all kinds of negative ramification when it comes to how they relate to others.

 

If we are to love others as ourselves, as Jesus tells us, – we will have a hard time doing so if we loathe ourselves. 

 

On the other hand, if my thinking about myself is right - if my self-esteem is not damaged or has become healthy through a process of challenging negative messages and reinforcing good ones, a host of good things can happen.   I will have a cheerful heart, a positive disposition - and all the benefits that go with it.

 

So while our background may seem to preprogram me into all kinds of negative roles and actions, the truth is, that I don’t need to allow the past to have that kind of power. 

 

II. DOES MY FAITH HELP ME TO STOP THE NEGATIVE MESSAGES I TELL MYSELF?

 

Religion can play a negative or positive part in a person’s ability to overcome the negative messages that they had been told and are now re-telling themselves. 

 

For some, what they hear at church or the temple or the synagogue simply reinforces their self-loathing.  It discourages them, depresses them, makes them fearful or anxious, increases their guilt, and keeps them stuck in a rut.  

 

One of the things that annoyed Jesus about the religious leaders of his day is that they were using the Law of Moses as a means of labelling others as worthless and as unloved by God.

 

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of mint, dill and cumin to God, but you ignore the things that are so much more important (to God): being upright, merciful and trustworthy. ... You strain out a tiny insect and swallow a whole camel.        

Matthew 23:23a

 

The Pharisees said, “How can your leader eat with tax collectors and sinners?” ...  Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ (= Hos 6:6).                                             Matthew 9:11-13a

 

For Jesus, God’s mercy simply cries out for human mercy. The parable of the forgiven debt (the unmerciful servant) is all about this principle (Matt 18:21-35). A person receives God’s mercy but is harsh and hard against other humans and so God’s mercy will be withdrawn from him as well.[3]

 

So on the one hand, religious faith can actually turn people even more negative - it can feed their negativity. 

 

However, for others, what they hear in church is extremely freeing and brings with it the ability to see themselves in a new light. 

 

There is the very real potential that an accurate understanding of God’s love will help our minds to readjust, to refocus, to change perspective, to think positively, to become happier and better people. 

 

This week I read this little quip:  Self-esteem is little more than a psychological term for recognizing God’s love for us.[4]  The point wasn’t that by recognizing God’s love for us immediately means that we view ourselves in a completely different light.  The point was that a believer has to work at incorporating that realization of being God’s beloved child into their mind and hearts.

 

God’s love needs to be appropriated not just once, but on an ongoing basis, if our thinking is to change, our view of ourselves is going to change, because the reality is that all of us are prone to fall back into old channels of thinking.  We need to develop new habits of how we think about ourselves. 

 

God’s desires for us to live fulfilled and yes, joy-filled, lives.  This is possible for those who truly grasp and appropriate God’s love for them.  But like I said, to get there usually takes time and effort.  And part of that effort is being connected to God through speaking with him, through prayer. 

 

Let’s say you’re dealing with anger issues, often rooted in what happened to us or what was said to us in the past.   Think about what Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus.

 

Get rid of all bitterness, vengeance (or: rage), anger, violent words and actions, slander, and every form of hateful attitude.                                Ephesians 4:31

 

That’s a tough one because, like I said, our human reaction to someone who has hurt us IS to hate them, wish them ill, hurt them back ... whether it’s striking out verbally, or gossiping about them behind their back, or putting something mean on Facebook, or treating them as if they didn’t exist. 

 

And it’s hard not to react in this way because almost always we will feel 100% justified in resenting a person or getting back at them.  

What do you think a repeated prayer to God like this one could potentially do for the times we are really angry with someone else?

 

- Thank you heavenly Father that you are changing me.  Show me why I am an angry person, heal me from that which makes me angry, so I can be a joyful, happy and cheerful individual.  Thank you!

 

But there is another part to our anger, and that can be described as bitterness, being resentful, holding on to grudges ... you get the idea. 

 

Someone hurts our feelings, was mean to us, was abusive ... and we end up hating that person, and there is this resentfulness that just bubbles to the surface every time we think about him or her.  They still have the power over us after all these years to make us feel crumby and upset.

 

It’s hard to realize that bitterness and resentment is like drinking poison, expecting the other person to die, or like holding on tightly to glowing coal in order to throw it at someone else, but the only person getting burned is you

 

Jesus taught on forgiveness.  The apostle Paul wrote about forgiveness.  For example

 

If you forgive others when they hurt you, so will your Father in heaven forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others for their offenses then neither will your Father forgive you.                                              Matthew 6:14-16

 

Forgive each other just as God in Christ also forgave you.

                                                          Ephesians 4:32

 

When we have been forgiven, it is possible, if not easy, to extend forgiveness, even to those who have deeply wounded us and so be freed from the misery of resentment.

 

When Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was released from 27 years in prison (1990) he made a conscious decision to leave all the hatred, resentment and bitterness behind.  He said that if he hadn’t done so, he would still be in a self-made prison.  He emerged, not bent on vengeance but healing.[5]

 

And yes, I know that some people are narcissists who lack empathy, others are psychopaths without remorse, others again are predators without mercy.

 

And they neither desire nor deserve our mercy.  However, these kind of individuals we will need to leave to the justice of God ... but we have to still move on with our lives.  We have to leave them behind.  We have to leave the bitterness and hate behind.  And the only way to let go is to forgive, even if it is simply for our own sake. 

 

Consider this prayer:

 

Lord, you know how deeply I was hurt by this person.  You know how every time I think of him/her I still get upset.  Thank you that you can help me to forgive, to want to forgive, and to let go of all that resentment and hurt.  Thank you for giving me a new peace about the past.

 

I know that just saying one prayer won’t fix things for us.  I think these kind of prayers have to be part of our devotional life because they are ongoing reminder about wanting to let go of the stuff that makes us miserable, is what we need. 

 

The same is true, if we have a hard time forgiving ourselves for something that we’ve done in the past.  Maybe we injured someone seriously while driving drunk.  Or we had an abortion.  Or maybe we mistreated someone or have taken advantage of someone.  Or maybe it’s just hundreds of times when we compromised our conscience. 

 

We are told in 1 John that if we seek God’s forgiveness he will give it to us.

 

If we confess our sins, He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness because He is faithful and just.                                                 1 John 1:9

 

That is incredibly freeing.  I don’t have to go through life guilt-ridden, feeling lousy about my mistakes.  If I truly appropriate this into my thinking, then I will be able to forgive myself and move on in life.

 

And, by the way, that does not mean, that I should feel good about the evil I’ve done or that I now have a license to do whatever crummy thing I want.

 

But nevertheless, we need to receive forgiveness from God and then forgive ourselves.  So that I won’t be defined by my past mistakes, but that I can be guided by them to do better.  Here’s another example of a prayer:

 

SLIDE 15 - I know that I have messed up and I still feel terrible about this, but I thank you God that, when I ask you to forgive me, you do exactly that and you wash all the filth and dirt of the past from my heart and soul.  Thank you that you are freeing me to become a better person than I was. 

 

What if we feel bad about ourselves?  I was repeatedly told as a child that I’m incapable and inept.  The result was that I had no self-assurance whatsoever.  It was as if my brain was programmed to accept and regurgitate that message.  I simply didn’t believe in myself and my abilities at all. 

 

One verse that I hung on to are Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth:

 

The Lord said to me, “... my power is made perfect in weakness.”  ... Therefore, when I am weak, then I am strong.                                2 Corinthians 12:10

 

In other words, when I feel at my weakest, most incapable, most vulnerable, I can tell myself that this is the time when God can and will carry me.  His strength will be sufficient, even when I feel insufficient. 

 

- Heavenly Father, thank you that I am as adequate and capable as anyone else; that I no longer have to accept the messages that I am somehow lacking.  Thank you for giving me strength to succeed when I feel insufficient.   (tearing “I can’t” to “I can”)

 

I read this week that self-esteem is made up of feeling capable, but also of feeling loved.  But at times, the message I might have running in my head is that I am not loved ... maybe not even worthy of being loved. 

 

I know individuals who were constantly told that they were worthless and that no one would ever love them.  Years of hearing that message ended up in the person having a nervous breakdown and being left a shadow of their former self. 

 

Faith can counteract such negative messages if is able to challenge them on the basis of God’s love.  This love is expressed by the Psalmist:

 

O God, how precious your thoughts of me are.  How vast is the sum of them.  If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.  When I awake, I am still with you.                                                               Psalm 139:17-18

 

Jesus also affirmed our great worth to God - God knows the number of hair on our respective heads (Matt 10:30; Luke 12:7).  

 

Similarly, Paul prays that the believers at Ephesus would have their eyes opened to the vastness of God’s love for them, a love so vast that they cannot even begin to understand (Ephesus 3:18-19).[6]

 

That should be our prayer for each other, that our eyes would but glimpse the vastness of God’s love for us ... because if we do, and if we are able to hang on to it, then it will mean immense positive change for us.

 

- Thank you God that I am of great worth to you.  You are interested in me and you love me more than I will ever be able to grasp.  Thank you that nothing in this world will stop you from loving and caring for me.  I will no longer think of myself as worthless or unloved because I know I am a person of worth, loved by you.

 

And so it goes with the other negative thoughts and negative messages that I send to myself.  They can cause me to be anxious, they can cause me to be

in despair, they can result in addictive behaviour in order to attempt to kill the pain, the voices, ...

 

These are all areas where I can either listen to the defeating messages in my head or to affirm my faith, the love of God, in prayer ... allowing this to change me in positive ways.

 

III. CAN I HELP TO STOP THE NEGATIVE MESSAGES OTHERS TELL THEMSELVES?

 

The answer is “yes”, of course I can. However, that may not be the way that we are wired.  We may be people who send out negative and discouraging messages to others for the very same reasons that others did to us. 

 

And as such, we can be guilty of creating a lot of emotional pain, as we are the source or the reinforcement of the hurtful messages that they have already received or are a sending themselves. 

 

In other words, I can do a heap of damage when my words are spoken without any thought to their consequences.  And truth be told, because we often are a bundle of insecurities, anxiety, accumulated hurts, ourselves ... sometimes with scabs covering our wounds, but sometimes having open wounds, hurting and raw, that we just make things worse for others.   

 

Over time, couples often accumulate hundreds and hundreds of perceived and real slights, until their relationship is so hurtful, that they split up ... it’s the proverbial death by 1,000 cuts,[7] only that these cuts are emotional rather than physical. 

 

As James writes,

 

The tongue is a fire, a world of injustice among the body parts.  She can corrupt a whole person and set on fire the whole course of life, and itself be set on fire by hell.

                                                                   James 3:6

 

So for us not to use our words in a destructive manner, some healing will first need to take place within ourselves. 

 

But what is true of negative words, is just as true of positive ones.  The power of words of support, encouragement, praise, appreciation ... simply cannot be overestimated.  The authors of Proverbs knew the incredible power in positive words:

 

A kind word encourages (the downcast).                                                                                    Proverbs 12:25

 

How good is a timely word!                 Proverbs 15:23

 

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.              Proverbs 15:30[8]

 

We possess great powers simply through the use of our speech - we have the ability to build up or to tear down, to encourage or to discourage, to help others be freed of negative thoughts or to be enslaved to them.

 

And so we are encouraged in the Bible to encourage and to build others up.  

 

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.   1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

But encourage one another daily, .... Hebrews 3:13

 

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another ....                                                               Hebrews 10:25

 

This encouragement is something that is to be the norm for believers.  It is to be practiced daily. 

 

The apostle Paul also writes to the Christians in Ephesus about how they should speak to each other:

 

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.                                                    Ephesians 4:29

 

While these verses were penned to individuals in a church, the need to encourage, to build up, is vitally important within a family situation as well - because often it is there that our hidden insecurities and damaged self-images manifest themselves in the most negative ways.  In other words, our family sees our worst side even if those at the church don’t. 

 

Encouragement is to the heart what breath is to the lungs, what food is for the stomach, what clothes are for the body.  Let us be the reason why someone smiles today

 

 

Some of the most important things we can say:

 

Of course you can.  You’re a great person.  I’m blessed you’re my kid.  You are smart.  You are creative.  It’s OK.  You’re OK.  I love you.  I’m proud of you.

 

That doesn’t mean that we cannot voice an opinion or correct our children when they are doing something that is wrong.  But it really depends on how we do it.

 

  • Am I speaking the truth IN LOVE? 

  • Do I hear (listen to) how I speak? 

  • Have I decided that I will NOT destroy someone’s self-worth or self-confidence? 

  • Have I decided that I will NOT be instrumental in programming someone we love for failure. 

  • Have I decided to be a person who will say something uplifting, encouraging, helpful daily and on a consistent basis?  Especially to those who are part of my family!

 

HAS GOD SPOKEN TO ME ABOUT SOMETHING THIS MORNING?

IF SO, WHAT WILL I DO ABOUT IT?

 

Where are you at when it comes to your faith in God?  Have you ever considered what it means if he really did exist?  And really did love you? 

 

If you meet Jesus, he will change the way you see your self – as God’s beloved child, worth as much as anyone else, of great, great value.  You will learn to accept and like and forgive yourself.

 

If you meet Jesus, he will make it possible for you to become a better person.

 

If you meet Jesus, he will make you into a person of encouragement, a person that finds a kind and encouraging word for others.  A word that will lift them up and will not tear them down.

 

 

[1] Job 2:9-10 - Then his wife said to him, "Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die!"  But he said to her, "You sound like one of the foolish women when they speak. Should we only accept good from God and not accept adversity?"

[2] One government report (2010) listed 212 reported cases of sexual abuse out of 100,000.  Sexual abuse 212 per 100,000, Saskatchewan has the highest provincial rate of family violence against children and youth, less happens in large cities, girls are more at risk than boys, and most offenders are male family members.   A 2017 statscan report using.

[3] Matt 18:34-35 - In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from you heart.

[4] Alan Nelson, The Power of a New Attitude (Baker, 2001), p.109.

[5] It took him a while to get there.  I think he confessed to acts of violence in court.  While in prison he likely sanctioned the Church Street bombings in 1983 that killed 19 (the actual number of people killed in 1980’s bombings by the ANC were likely in the hundreds and hundreds and the injured in the thousands - alone the landmines set by the ANC resulted in 125 deaths).  He refused a presidential pardon in 1985 because he would not renounce violence.  After his rise to prominence he also kept close ties with the likes of Castro, Gaddafi, Arafat, Sani Abacha, and Suharto.  

[6] Ephesians 3:17-19 - And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

[7] A form of torture and capital punishment practised in mid- and late-Imperial China (as well as Vietnam) from the tenth century until its abolition in 1905.  A knife is used to remove portions of the body over an extended period of time, eventually resulting in death.

[8] Proverbs 16:24 - Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.