Words can hurt you

stick-and-stones-may-break-my-bonesWe all know this isn’t true:

“Sticks and stones may break your bones,
but words can never hurt you.”

Our bodies and minds are more tied together than the saying implies. Ever gotten a stomachache over words? I have.

Context matters. In the last chapter of Mindfulness, author Ellen Langer illustrates with this example.

If you see a lion at the zoo, you’re not afraid.
Your body doesn’t react.

But encounter him outside your tent on a camping trip?
See how you react then.

Contexts are learned. Thus most of what provokes emotion is learned. And these emotional contexts are generally learned in a single-minded way.

Think how you react to God. Some feel angry. Maybe afraid. Or shamed. Or simply disinterested. Perhaps because of an absent or bad father growing up. Perhaps because of harmful church experiences earlier in life.

But our initial perceptions aren’t always accurate.

If your doctor calls you to come in, you may feel a physical reaction. Not because answering the phone is stressful, but because what you’re imagining is. What’s wrong? Do I have cancer? What will this mean?

Our thoughts create the context which determines our feelings.

And our feelings spread out from there. To avoid unnecessary stress, get to the truth.

If we’ve imagined God as a stalker waiting to catch us in one wrong move then bang!, or if we’ve thought he could care less about our lives, or that he doesn’t even exist at all, we’re not likely to seek him and discover the full life he has for us.

And we will surely have a hard time loving such a God.

So what do we do?

Reexamine our beliefs. Study to see if they line up with who God says he is. Talk to those who have a satisfying relationship with him and compare that to God’s book. Look around at creation.

God encourages mindfulness, not ignorance (2 Timothy 2:15).

Just as we dodge real sticks and stones, let’s stay mindful to avoid untrue words as well—they’re painful. They lead to untrue beliefs.

And untrue beliefs hurt us in more ways than one.

Seek the truth.
In truth is freedom.
In freedom is life. Life to the full (John 10:10).

* * *

We’re discussing Mindfulness at The High Calling.


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