Sticks and stones can’t hurt me…right?

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been a singer. When I was four or five years old, one of the leaders at church put me through my paces by asking me to match the notes he hit on a piano. He must have liked what he heard because from then on, I’d often be called up to the front of church, plonked on a chair (so everyone could see me) and asked to sing.

As a personality type, I’m a funny mix of shy and extroverted but standing on a chair aged four, doing my best version of the Gaither classic Because He Lives, well, I loved it.

Yeah, that’s me in the pinafore 😉

In years to come I’d sing in worship teams and then eventually I moved to the US to join a mobile evangelistic music team and had the wild experience of living on a 40 ft tour bus and singing in churches in around 30 US states. I’ve been so, so fortunate and blessed.

In many respects though, singing has always made me feel really vulnerable. I suppose it’s like any form of creative expression. If you’re an artist or a baker or a musician or even a doodler or a knitter, every time you share some of your ‘work’, you’re showcasing a little bit of who you are on the inside.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic here (ha!) but it can also be a way of saying ‘this is what I feel, this is what’s going on in my heart’. Our artistic gifts and how we express them can also be a way of showing people we care. People make beautiful cakes to show their love or they paint or draw or sing to express their emotions and I guess they want you to feel what they feel too.

It can even be true of preaching too. This is why (I think), if your pastor gives a good preach, tell them. If someone makes, does or creates something beautiful, let them know you liked it. By doing so, you’re often saying ‘I see what you did. Thank you’.

We can use our words to bring life but sometimes (even unintentionally), our words can also cause death and destruction.

I’ll always remember an experience years ago when I met up with some musician friends for the day. One of them had access to a recording studio so one afternoon we thought we’d have a bit of a mess around, sing, record, dabble about with some extra effects. I was really looking forward to spending the time together but once I stepped into the recording booth, I couldn’t hear the track very well and I was aware I was singing just ever so slightly out of key. I gestured to my friend and started the track again but we just couldn’t get the levels right. In the end we gave up and went out for ice cream instead.

Later another friend joined us and I overheard her ask Recording Studio Friend how it went. I wasn’t supposed to hear this conversation but I heard him say in response, ‘Awful, a consistent semitone off the whole way through’. Being a semitone off is basically the equivalent of a cat wailing. It’s a small, slight variation from what you’re supposed to be singing and if you’re listening it’ll likely make your teeth grate and your skin pucker in annoyance.

As I overheard Recording Studio Friend say this, perhaps I should have jumped to my own defence and said OF COURSE I knew it was off, I couldn’t hear the flipping track (!!) but instead, I felt a rush of shame and red-faced embarrassment. In that moment, everything in me shut down. Humiliation, like dirty water from a tap poured into my heart and as a result I didn’t sing again publicly for over 3 years. Every time I’d try, I’d hear this refrain in my head ‘a whole semitone off, a whole semitone off’.

Whoever said ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ had clearly never been hit in the googlies by someone else’s cruel or off-guard comments. Words can’t physically break your bones but they certainly can break your heart and smash up your spirit. All around us we see people who are the victims of this; the walking wounded who are survivors of emotional and verbal abuse, living under the shadow of condemning words screamed over them as children. I know a few! And unpicking that damage can be a lifelong job.

But what can I do?

I must admit I’m still learning how to be intentional in encouraging other people – words of affirmation isn’t exactly my love language. But having been on the receiving end of others’ harsh words, I really do want my words to be life-giving and encouraging; words that build a house, not raze it to its foundations.

Too often I’ve said things (often in jest because I have a very weird sense of humour) that could have caused hurt. If I realise I’ve done it (yet again!) then I try to auto-correct and apologise but wouldn’t it be great if I simply didn’t say those things to begin with? I’d save myself lots of time in over-thinking and apologising for starters!

Perhaps my prayer each day (maybe yours too?) should be like David’s in Psalm 141:3:‘Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.’ And above all, ‘let our kind words be like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body’. (Proverbs 16:24)

Kind words like soothing honey. I like that.

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