I still remember this incident as clear as the letters being typed on this page.

I was in my 8th grade year, walking across the high school campus and started to pass by a group of freshmen boys to my left. They were located fifteen feet up on a hillside under the alcove of a building which created an echo down to me as they boastfully bantered amongst themselves. I remember shyly glancing their way and all of them were turned looking at me as I got closer, sizing me up with their eyes like a prize.

Except I was far from their prize of interest.

One in the group said, “Hey, what about her?”

The ring leader retorted in a sneer, “Her? Heh, I’ve seen better.”

I proceeded to focus at my cuticles, pretending I didn’t hear what was said as I rushed off toward my destination.

Because what was said sent a wound to my heart.

You may think it silly that the words spoken by this boy had any effect on me. Boys I didn’t even know, whom I would never remember seeing again.

Yet at this moment of my life I was struggling with my own self-esteem and ugly duckling stage. I wore unflattering braces, had hair chopped in all the wrong angles (due to a haircut gone madly wrong), wore baggy pants with oversized T-shirts enveloping my petite frame, and recently I produced many small red unsightly bumps which fanned my fair skinned face. My value was shaky as my looks did not match the pretty, more popular girls I knew. I did not feel beautiful, and this statement brought about confirmation to my perception, leading to episodes of depression and self-esteem issues.

The presence of ill-formed words can be a soul-killer.

Oppositely I remember another incident in my childhood.

I was younger then, in 5th grade I believe, and there was a scheduled hearing test at my school. I didn’t understand what was going on until they shuffled my whole class outside into giant vans as they began to explain to us the process.

My face lost color for fear of what was coming in the next few minutes.

You see, I am completely deaf in my left ear from a childhood illness. My parents and family knew it, yet I had never opened up to my friends about it for fear of being labeled different and gaining the unpleasant possibility of being made-fun of. Therefore I stayed silent about it.

Oftentimes this deafness didn’t affect me much, as I had excellent hearing in my right ear. However there were certain times it had become a nuisance to me or caused misinterpretations about me by others. Some friends thought I was “ditzy” because I didn’t always hear them correctly, or would say “what?” a lot. Others wondered why I turned my other ear toward them if they were trying to whisper in my deaf ear. Or my friends and classmates wondered why I always opted out of the dreaded Telephone Game. (1980’s anyone?)

Petrified to reveal my condition, I walked into those vans and decided to go with the flow.

There are certain times when keeping silent, such as simply sitting with a family member who just lost a loved one, holding their trembling hand, can be better treatment than filling the air with a mess of words.

We sat in chairs and were told to place special headphones on our ears. We were asked to close our eyes and raise our hands when we heard a varied volume of beeps from our headphones. So I did as I was told.

At the end of the test, we all opened our eyes and the instructor asked me if I would go ahead and place the headphones back on to try it again. Just me. All eyes turned to me. I remember my peers penetrating stares, scrutinizing me, wondering what on earth was “wrong” with me?

Being the inquisitive girl I was, I saw the instructor press a button and look back at me. I raised my hand. He pressed another button. I raised my hand. I continued this repeated process until he was satisfied with the test.

I never once heard a beep, but I pretended I had.

It would have been easier if I had spoken up instead of remained silent through this test. It would have helped my classmates understand how to interact with me better as I chose to continue hiding my “difference” from them for fear of being picked on, bullied or made-fun of. It would have helped with friendships in the future to have friends who knew of my condition so they didn’t have the wrong misconceptions about me when I didn’t hear what was being said. Hiding my condition led to difficulties with friendships in high school and chiseled at my self-esteem over the years in negative ways.

The absence of well-formed words can be a soul-killer.

The presence or absence of words can either be soul-killing or soul-filling. There are some instances when speaking up with kind, loving, truth filled words is the best approach in that moment. But then there are other instances when telling someone off about their issues, accusing, blaming or placing shame on them only adds to the fire and causes irreparable damage to relationships. There are certain times when keeping silent, such as simply sitting with a family member who just lost a loved one, holding their trembling hand, can be better treatment than filling the air with a mess of words. Finally there are other instances when keeping silent, such as being involved in an abusive relationship leads to deeper hurt and emotional damage when one would be better off asking for help.

We must be sensitive to listening to Gods voice and presence to help us decide when and what words to share as well as when to speak up or be silent. But discrediting that words have no effect upon us is believing a damaging lie.

Have you ever heard the common phrase, “sticks and stones make break my bones but words will never hurt me,” typically stated after a deathly word battle ensued?

This is not only a false statement but it is contrary to what the bible teaches.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue… (Proverbs 18:21).

This is pretty clear. Words can bring death or words can bring life. We need to choose our words carefully.

We need to speak words that bring about grace and love to others.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. (Proverbs 16:24)

We need to be wise on when to restrain ourselves from speaking to ensure that our ill-rendered emotions have cooled before opening our unstable mouth.

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Proverbs 17:27)

We need to be gentle in our approach to others with our words and avoid lashing out in anger or bitterness.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

We need to seek the counsel of Jesus through his Word, the bible, in order to obtain words of truth that can set you and others free.

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

God’s Word is the very breath of life. It is more powerful than any other book. It has truth filled words. Power breathing words. Heart-healing words. It is the foundation upon which we can stand, enabling us to know that the words written from this book will indeed bring soul-filling life and sustenance to our torn and war-ridden hearts.