Words matter. Whether we think, write, read, or verbalize them, the words we use have the power to leave ripple effects, positive and/or negative, on our lives and the lives of others. When the wisdom writer wrote, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21a, AMP), he was effectively saying death and life, the greatest evil and good, are in the power of words. On the spoken word, Bible Expositor John Gill writes, “Some, by their tongues, by the too free use of them, or falsehood they utter, are the cause of death to themselves and others; and some, by their silence, or by their prudent speech and prevalent intercession, secure or obtain life for themselves and others; yea, judgment at the last day will proceed according to a man’s words (Matthew 12:37).” In essence, a life can be changed forever with as little as a single phrase or an uplifting word.
These thoughts came to mind as I reflected on an African proverb I came across some time ago – the axe forgets, but the tree remembers. Long after the axe has done its work, the tree bears the scars; each scar is a reminder of the work of the axe. The tree is never the same. Words are the same way. In a blog article titled The Power of Spoken Words, Dr. Hyder Zahed writes, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” We get to choose the words we use. Long after they are utilized and despite us sometimes forgetting having used them, the effects of those words linger, positively or negatively, on those whom they impacted. The phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is simply not true. Rachel Wolchin was right when she said, “Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you, may stick with someone else for a lifetime.” The wrong words often hurt; the right words often make all the difference.
Unfortunately, we do not always see the negative effects of our words. In another article titled Psychology Behind the Power of Words: 12 Amazing Points, the author writes, “A human is not only made of flesh and bones. But emotions, character, and unconscious mind. Words itself can kill a person’s soul. They are thus a powerful weapon.” When we weaponize words by using them to criticize indiscriminately or put down another person, the smile on their face hides the pain in their heart. Inner struggles with self-confidence, self-esteem and the questioning of self-worth and value are often masked so we can appear “normal.” While the “axe” forgets, the “tree” remembers. It is like a trauma to the soul. Again, from the wisdom writer, “The spirit of a man sustains him in sickness, but as for a broken spirit, who can bear it?” (Proverbs 18:14). For some of us, the struggle is not only real but is also ongoing. Whomever said, “Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten” was right.
It is no wonder that the words of the psalmist resonate in such a profound way: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord” (Psalm 19:14, KJV). Not just the words we speak, or the ones we think, but also the ones we write, the ones we text. Jesus affirmed, “Every idle [wicked, injurious, false, malicious] word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). James sums it up this way, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious [scrupulously observant of the rituals of his faith], and does not control his tongue but deludes his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless (futile, barren)” (James 1:26, AMP). Our words, in all forms, matter. They can be the difference between hurt and healing, between life and death. Let us choose them wisely.